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To stretch or not to stretch?

Stretching - Is it really necessary?

Ever since we were youngsters, we have had instilled in us the importance of stretching, but do we really need to do those stretches daily? The evidence is a little sketchy when it comes to many of the perceived benefits of stretching and it can certainly be tempting to forego that glute stretch to do an extra few minutes of ‘hard exercise’ but personally I wouldn’t recommend it...stay with me on this one!

So tell me...what are the benefits of stretching?

  • Regular gentle stretch and release techniques can help to relieve muscle tension or tightness and increase flexibility --> The facts: Some research has shown an increase in muscle extensibility (Chan et al, 2001), while others believe that the increase in range of movement is due to an increase in stretch tolerance (Ben and Harvey, 2010).

  • Increased flexibility can help you achieve better form in your exercise to get the most out of your workout. For example, greater calf flexibility may allow you to achieve a deeper squat which will really get those gluts and quads on fire!!!

  • Whilst stretching will not eliminate the risk of injury, incorporating stretching into a warm up may help to better prepare your mind and body for exercise - get in the zone and bring your focus to the task at hand.

  • It’s good for the heart! Stretching has been shown to enhance vagal modulation (Drew et al, 2008)

  • It feels good!!!! Stretching can help to ease stress and tension both physically and mentally by releasing tight muscles and helping you to feel more relaxed and improve your posture - win win.

  • Stretching has also been shown to improve gait and balance in older adults, which may help to avoid falls and the associated health consequences of these (Page,2012)

How to stretch effectively? The Do's & don'ts!

Ok, ok, I get it, I need to stretch. So how do I do it correctly?

Proper stretching technique is vital otherwise you may do more harm than good. Warm up first. Dynamic stretches are good way to limber up (performing whole body movements at a lower level such as walking lunges), even just a gentle walk swinging your arms will do the trick!

Static stretching cold muscles can increase the risk of strains, in fact, Static stretching as part of a warm up prior to exercise is NOT recommended and has been shown to be detrimental to muscle strength (Manoel et al,2008).

Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and repeat 2-4 times (ACSM, 2008)

Don’t bounce at the end of range as this can cause small muscle tears.

The stretch must be painfree. You should stretch in a comfortable range; no pain no gain is definitely not the way to go with stretches! Relax and breathe freely during the stretch.

For a general fitness programm, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends static stretching for most individuals that is preceeded by a warm up, at least 2-3 days per week (Page, 2012).

It's worth mentioning several authors have noted an individualised response to stretching (Page, 2012) which means prescription of stretches should be individualised depending on you and your body. Ever feel like a wannabe pretzel next to the flexible acrobat in a stretch class? Don't worry we aren't all built the same and for many us certain stretches are not necessarily ideal for our bodies. Feel free to have a chat to one of The Studio team to discuss appropriate stretches for you to keep you fighting fit throughout our Winter Warmer Challenge!

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