Stretching is an important component of exercise, but the question that is often asked, is why?
Why do we need to ensure we stretch adequately before and after any training session? And why is it important to ensure we ensure regular stretching as a part of our daily and weekly routines?
All of these are excellent questions and I believe understanding why stretching is crucial to your daily and weekly life and training regime will ensure you are able to continually hit peak performance in your body.
Now firstly, I will address the third question I posed above – why is it important to ensure regular stretching as a part of our daily and weekly routine. Well, the biggest reason to why stretching is important to your body, is its impact on the movement of your muscles and limbs. Our body can be quite flexible, however, it truly loves to adapt to match the physical demands you place upon it as a part of your regular routine. Which means, the more you push your body, the greater flexibility your muscles will retain, while lower movement by your body will result in restrictive muscle flexibility.
So, if you have a routine that consists of sitting down for several hours a day, your body will favour that position, and will adapt the flexibility of your muscles and limbs to this routine. However, if you are active, and regularly push your body, it will ensure it retains the flexibility it needs to meet the demands you place upon it.
Therefore, in the absence of regular movement in our body, we must actively introduce activities into our routine to ensure our muscles and limbs retain the flexibility we desire and will ensure that when we undertake other activities, such as training sessions, our body is equipped with not only the physical capabilities to meet the demands we place upon it, but ensure that the risk of injury is limited.
It is for this reason that my partner, who has an extremely demanding job as a General Manager in the NHS commits to 10 minutes of stretching every morning, because she knows that she may not be able to get that daily training session or exercise squeezed in due to her work, but the knowledge that stretching will ensure her body is prepared for that next yoga class, or barre class, drives her to make this an important part of her daily routine.
On this point, Miguel would like to add that “stretching allows greater Range of motion but also greatly assists in postural issues which can cause pain”. For example lower back issues from sitting at a desk all day can also be attributed to hamstrings shortening as people are seated, and knees remain in a flexed position. As a result the range of motion of the hamstring is reduced and it pulls on the hips placing greater strain on lower back. A common cause of lower back issues is hamstring inflexibility. Doing some simple stretch to help your hamstrings can help alleviate lower back pain!
James’ partner, who I went to university with back in Sydney, applies what we learnt together of the integral relationship between flexibility and wellbeing. That the body is made to move and flexibility allows the joints to move through the full range of motion they were intended to.
Another example with hamstrings is often “torn” hamstrings or hamstring injuries occur as a result of their inflexibility. When you run the quadriceps muscles contract to pull the lower leg forward. The hamstrings work in the reverse action to slow the lower leg down so that your knee joint doesn’t hyper extend. The hamstring is in charge of deceleration and allowing you to then be able to land again as the hamstring pulls the leg back after extension. However when the hamstrings have reduced ROM (Range of motion) and are tight it can start to pull back before you have fully reached extension- reducing performance and running ability, or even not have the power required to counter act the force created from the quadriceps. As such when the quadriceps contract too powerfully the hamstring tries to pull back but when it passes its current range of motion a tear occurs in the muscle. This can also be associated with hamstring weakness not just flexibility however flexibility is a contributing factor.
Now, to the question of the importance of stretching before and after exercising, the answer is quite simple – stretching is a crucial component to maximising the efficacy of our body’s recovery.
When we exercise, we are pushing our body to the extent that our muscles suffer small tears and blood loss, as well as the introduction of lactic acid, which is created as a part of an intense workout. These factors drive the feeling of soreness, tiredness and the subsequent restriction in our bodily movement after we finish our exercise session.
Our body will recover from this feeling. That is known, however, how we treat our body at the conclusion of our workout will dictate the length of time it will take for it to regain its pre-workout strength and movement. If we stretch adequately post-exercise, we can assist in the recovery process and ensure our body is back to peak performance levels as soon as possible.
To combat this effect on our body, we look to stretching to reduce muscle soreness and aid recovery, because the act of stretching increases local blood flow back into the muscles and limbs we have just used. It is the circulation of blood that drives recovery, and the more of it we can pump through our muscles and limbs, the faster the recovery will be.
On this point, Miguel states – “Stretching increases local blood flow back into the muscles and removes the lactic acid that has built up during the exercise session”. This in turn has the effect of reducing that soreness, as well as building up the pre-exercise movement and flexibility in muscle and limbs. During the workout there are microfiber tears in the muscle, essentially the muscle becomes lightly frayed and for the muscle strain to re-align and come back together stretching is integral. You will generally feel these small tears as DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) after sessions. After the fibres come back together they are able to get stronger. Stretching is integral not just for flexibility but for function. You will find you are able to place greater loads through the muscles if they have better flexibility and you are able to recover better too (if you are still feeling DOMS stretch more and it will help increase recovery). Flexibility will severely affect function, e.g. A body builders deadlift will be restricted if they are not stretching their hamstrings and lower back.
I hope this summary reiterates why Miguel always allocates 5 minutes at the end of every session to stretching, and how the simply act of stretching alone can have a profound effect on your body, for both flexibility and recovery.
If you have any questions on what are the best stretches to do post-exercise, or would like advice on a daily stretching routine, please feel free to reach out to anyone at Peak Physique Studios, as we are more than willing to assist!
Miguel & The Team,
Peak Physique Studios