Is stretching a necessary part of a workout? What are we actually supposed to stretch and what’s the point of all that? What are the pros and cons of stretching in muscle-gain-oriented workouts? Are there any limits to our stretching abilities that we shouldn’t cross? Here are some stretching fundamentals you should be aware of.
What’s the aim of improving flexibility?
If you look at a definition of flexibility, you’ll find out that its main purpose is to exchange the range of body movements. The greater the range is, the more effective the movements we perform. The muscles that aren’t being stretched become stiff, which means their motion range is limited. This, in turn, leads to injuries when the body is put through a serious physical effort.
The benefits of stretching
Stretching stimulates the blood circulation within the stretched body parts, which allows an adequate blood supply to the muscles and tendons. More blood supplying the cells equals more efficient regeneration of the tissue after the workout.
Regular stretching allows to keep the appropriate muscle length and tone. It also affects the inner structure of the muscles and tendons making them more immune to overstraining and less vulnerable to injuries.
So, the answer for the basic dilemma “to stretch or not to stretch” is simple: Stretch. Always stretch, never forget about stretching, and never underestimate it!
Stretching in different types of workout
In all gymnastic disciplines (but also in CrossFit program, which draws from gymnastics), flexibility is among the crucial features an athlete should display. Many of the stretching techniques applied in those disciplines may seem quite extreme.
It’s good to remember, however, that the gymnasts have spent many long years on workout, which makes their bodies very well prepared for this kind of effort. Some of the techniques, properly adapted to capabilities, may be used in everyday post-workout stretching (more about the techniques in one of the upcoming articles).
Stretching is a necessary part of each good cardio session. After such a lengthy, extended effort, it’ll help relax the muscles and regenerate them properly. Especially when the legs seem heavy and stiff immediately after running, for instance, it helps to solidly, but gently, stretch the quads, hamstrings, and calves. It’s simply pleasant when you feel as the muscles and tendons gradually loosen.
In workouts focused on mass gaining, flexibility sometimes seems underestimated. Many athletes displaying impressively developed muscles display also contractures (simply speaking, some of the great musclemen are not able to fully straighten their arms, for example).
From the purely physical perspective, the more matted the muscle fibers are, the more efficient is the use of strength. Nonetheless, the price for the decreased flexibility is diminished muscle growth and limited motion range, which in the long run equals limited effectiveness of exercises. So, stretch even if you focus mainly on building your muscles.
The limits of stretching
Flexibility is a feature that improves over a considerable amount of time, so there’s no place for rush or any fierce movements. Avoid pain – post-workout stretching shouldn’t excess the line of a light discomfort. Stay focused and control your body. Stretching while being distracted is an easy way to an injury, and that’s what we obviously want to avoid.
How flexible you are depends also on your age, gender, and individual body features. The older you get, the less flexible your muscles and tendons become. In practice, this means you need more time to reach a certain movement range. The gender determinant is connected to the level and the kind of hormones produced by your body.
And finally, the individual differences are the result of a slightly different constructions of the skeleton and the joints. Some people simply tend to be stiff by nature, others surprisingly flexible. No matter your natural predisposition for stretching exercises, you should really pay proper attention to them.
What’s more, usually one side of everyone’s body is stretched better than the other one. Start stretching from the weaker side and spend some more time on it than on the ‘better’ one. Always remember that regularity is the key to keeping up the accurate level of flexibility, no matter the age, gender, and individual body differences.
So stretch! No matter who you are, and what you do. Your muscles and tendons will work more effectively and safely when properly and regularly stretched. Not everyone is expected to do the splits, yet flexibility is undoubtedly an important ingredient of being fit.
Read more about stretching methods.