Is it important to Stretch?
We hope that you’ve enjoyed the recent stretch series of video clips on our Instagram IGTV ‘channel’!
Flexibility is one of the five components of fitness, so it should really be part of a workout programme and part of your routine of exercise.
Why you ask?
Stretching is great for a number of reasons and there are a couple of additional blogs in our website on this very subject.
One of the most obvious reason we stretch is for recovery, after a class, a workout, a run, a bike ride or even a long long walk;
During exercise, muscles work, no great surprise there! As the muscles are working, fuel is used up, waste products are created and the muscle fibre endures multiple micro tears. As an analogy, imagine a large dinner, the table is prepared, food is eaten, rubbish is created (napkins, leftovers, drinks etc.), and the table looks pretty messy. Before your next dinner, the table needs to be cleaned of rubbish, food replenished, the tables laid again.
The stretches we do after our workout can be likened to that tidy up process. We often use static stretching after our workouts. This can help increase our range of motion, and, since our muscles are already warm, it can feel easier to get in that good stretch. Stretching can be a great way to release tightness and increase our range of motion when we’re sore, which can make us feel better, even though it’s not actually healing the tears in your muscles or making them repair any faster. Stretching can help keep our muscles a bit ‘looser’ and lessens the shortening and tightening that can lead to post workout aches.
Most of us exercise to be healthy, lose weight and improve our moods.
When we exercise consistently, our bodies adapt to that by changing our muscle structure, metabolism and physiology. It is that change, those adaptations, that lead to all the positive benefits of exercise. Staying with the dinner example, if we thought that 50 people were going to arrive at our dinner, but we only have 3 tables of 5 set, we would change our capacity to be ready for the bigger number of people. We would increase the efficiency in our kitchen and set more tables. And so it is, that our body remodels itself to adapt to increasing exercise.
Studies have shown that five variables emerge as consistently aiding the body in its effort to adapt in response to exercise: nutritional intake (specifically protein), type of exercise, massage, sleep and – stretching.
Perhaps the most well-known and accepted benefits of muscle stretching exercises are improved or maintained range of motion, or both; alignment of bones and joints; and strengthening of connective tissues – all elements that optimise performance. Many studies have shown that flexibility training (time given to muscle stretching as part of an exercise programme over a period of time) directly improves muscle function, and ultrasound images have documented favourable alterations in muscle architecture following weeks of regular stretching, such as longer fibres. A recent study has shown that stretching over time improves blood flow to the muscles during subsequent exercise in animals.
So, should we stretch? If you, like most of us, are exercising to lose weight, be well and improve mood – yes. It will help with muscle adaptation, connective tissue strengthening, range-of-motion improvement, joint alignment and potentially blood flow during subsequent exercise – all beneficial effects in the long run.