Stretching is an important part of any balanced fitness program. Aerobic, strength, and endurance activities tend to be the focus when it comes to fitness, but any activity should include at least one stretch session to improve flexibility. Flexibility benefits the human body in numerous ways. It can help develop body awareness, increase relaxation (mental and physical), optimize learning and performance of athletic skills, reduce risk of injury, maintain strength, enhance freedom of movement, assist postural corrections, and reduce soreness and tension.
When we think of muscles we tend to think of them contracting to move our bodies and lift objects. But they also need the ability to stretch. In fact, when we contract one muscle, another relaxes. If I tried to bend my elbow by contracting my biceps without my triceps relaxing (i.e. stretching), I wouldn’t get very far. In this way, flexibility improves fitness and reduces the risk of injury.
There are a number of reasons why flexibility may be an issue for you. The good news is that the solution is usually proper stretching. Things like posture problems, tight muscles/tendons/ligaments, previous injuries, muscle soreness, genetics, age, gender, and inactivity play a roll. If you do have recent injures, been inactive for awhile, or sharp pain with movement, it’s important to talk with a health care professional before starting. Those with osteoporosis and some vascular & skin diseases should also speak with professional before starting a stretching regiment.
As we look at some of the things to consider when stretching, keep in mind these 5 things for successful flexibility training.
- Position of the body to support the stretch
- Orientation and placement of the involved body parts during stretching
- Motions involved in the stretch
- Intensity and Duration of the stretch
- Regularity of the stretching sessions
There are many types of stretching programs, regiments, and techniques all with different fitness goals. Ideas and stretches talked about in this article are for fundamental flexibility and spinal health. It’s also geared more towards the average person who wants to increase their fitness level and not athletes.
Types of stretches
For flexibly, nothing beats static stretches. A static stretch involves holding a position that gradually stretches the muscle and connective tissues to a greater length. It’s the type of stretch most are familiar people are familiar with.
Ballistic stretching involve “bouncing” or “jerking” the muscle. It imposes high-force, high-speed movements on the muscle. While some may argue it’s benefits for athletes, the average person should not perform ballistic stretches. In fact, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American College of Sports Medicine warn against these stretches.
Not all moving stretches are ballistic. Dynamic stretches involve some motion while stretching the muscle, but skip the bouncing, jerking motions. Examples are things like arm circles and shoulder roles.
When is the best time to stretch?
There’s a lively debate among trainers, coaches, athletes, and others about when to stretch to improve athletic performance. For the average person however, a good rule is to do both pre and post exercise stretching.
Pre-exercise stretching should be performed after a 5-10 minute low-intensity warm-up, like walking. Static stretches should never be used as a warm up. Following the warm-up, static or dynamic stretches targeting muscles groups to be used are recommend.
Holding a stretch may fatigue some muscles, reducing performance. But this isn’t as important for the average person working out as it may be for a star athlete before a game. Even then, studies still haven’t found enough data to recommend stopping pre-exercise stretching.
Cool-downs after exercise provide the greatest gains in range of movement and overall increase in flexibility. It’s important to target the muscles used during the activity, but also a great opportunity to stretch overall to improve general flexibility.
There are so many types and techniques of flexibility exercises that it would be impossible to list them all in one article. The following are some spinal stretches to get you started.
Remember, never bounce or jerk while performing these stretches. Discontinue if any position causes pain and do not resume until you have consulted with your doctor or chiropractor.
Chiropractic care and flexibility
One potential limiter of flexibility, posture, is something that chiropractic looks at as well. The position that your body is in for the majority of the day is where the muscles set their length and tension at, so to speak. That means if you sit at a desk or look down at your phone all day, certain muscles begin to tighten and others weaken. Improving your smart phone habits and getting up from the computer more often can help, but it may have already created an underlying problem.
Minor injuries and bad posture can cause abnormal movements or misalignments throughout the spine. If your top vertebra, atlas, becomes misaligned it can cause distortions in your entire body’s posture. It can also put pressure on neurological structures like the brain stem or restrict the flow of blood and cerebral spinal fluid. A doctor of chiropractic can help identify and correct these misalignments.
So if your goal is to improve your fitness, speaking with a chiropractor can be a huge benefit. Not only can they help you identify good stretches to perform, but they can also address underlying posture problems and old injuries. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to us or let us know in the comments below!