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Abilene Reporter-News (Texas)
Stretching is something that most people include in their training sessions at some point during their workout. They do this because they either feel it will be beneficial to their performance, increase individual flexibility and range of motion or decrease post exercise soreness and reduce the risk of injury.
However, guidelines dictating when, how and how long we should stretch have changed quite significantly. Are your practices up to par or is it time for a personal revision?
Over the past few decades, research has indicated that static stretches before exercise, the type of stretches where you simply hold a stretch while feeling a pull in the muscle, is actually detrimental to physical performance. In fact, the longer you hold a specific stretch, the greater the negative impact on performance. This is because prolonged static stretching actually shuts down muscle function and in turn fails to activate the muscles and ready them for exercise.
Compared to traditional static stretching, a warm up including sport specific dynamic stretching is likely to be most beneficial. While static stretching slows down muscle function, dynamic stretching increases blood flow to working muscles and increases nerve conduction to the muscles which means muscle can contract faster.
Scientifically speaking, there is very limited evidence to support the idea that stretching prevents injuries. However, as far as post exercise soreness is concerned, the same research did find a direct correlation between post exercise stretching and a reduction in stiff sore muscles.
Finally, all research seems to be in agreement when it comes to range of motion. Stretching appears to be most beneficial when it comes to increasing an individual's range of motion. Proper range of motion is not only important for pain-free movement but is also necessary for independence, daily living activities and quality of life.
How does this apply to you? First, begin all exercise or training sessions with a well-rounded warm up including dynamic stretching. Make the warm up sport specific and gradually increase the length and speed of movements. After exercise is over, it's best to do a cool down that includes light relaxing stretching - stretching to the point of resistance, not to the point of pain. You can improve daily joint and muscle function, improving overall range of motion and flexibility by adding two dedicated stretching sessions to your fitness regime each week. When doing your dedicated stretching sessions, keep in mind that stretching should be comfortable, all stretches should be help for at least 30 seconds and be certain to breath through your movements.
Angie Ferguson is an exercise physiologist from Fort Myers, Florida. She is a USA Triathlon Advanced Level 2 coach, Ironman Certified coach, Slowtwitch Certified coach, USA Cycling coach and has a Specialty in Sports Nutrition certification.
For more training tips, read her blog at www.triathlontrainingisfun.com or contact her at www.gearedup.biz.
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