Friday, May 05, 2017

5 Facts About Stretching You Should Know

First introduced in 1976, the popular Stretch Armstrong action figure wowed kids across the world with his super flexibility and elastic powers. Manufactured to be about 15 inches tall, Stretch Armstrong could be pulled and stretched to anywhere between 4 and 5 feet, briefly remaining expanded before shrinking back to its original size.

Unlike Stretch Armstrong who was filled with latex rubber and corn syrup gel, humans have a little tougher time getting the hang of the stretching thing. If you’re looking to boost your flexibility or simply fight off aches and pains with routine stretching, know these important tips:

Hold Stretches for 30 Seconds

Forget quickly touching your toes, bouncing for a few seconds, and returning to standing position. This does little for long term flexibility and truly doesn’t benefit your muscles very much at all. When you stretch, your muscles experience an automatic reflex (myotatic reflex) that aims to contract the muscle back into its original position. If you hold the stretch for an extended amount of time, the message to contract gets overridden with a message to relax (autogenic inhibition), helping lengthen and stretch the muscle to maintain tone, strength, and range of motion.

Stretch After Exercise

Stretching is best done when muscles are warm and pliable, hence, stretching after exercising (cardio, aerobic, strength training) is more suitable for your muscles. Want to warm up your muscles before your workout? Take more dynamic actions like jumping jacks, a brisk walk, or burpees. Exercises like yoga and tai chi, in turn, incorporate gentle stretching into the practice itself, combined with deep breathing and held positions - mindfulness practices like these help you warm up muscles, lengthen your spine, and ramp up your flexibility.

Elasticity and Plasticity are Different

Elasticity is simply your body’s ability to return to it’s original position and form after stretching, while plasticity is its ability for the skeletal muscles to lengthen and adapt overtime. The skeletal musculature of the human body is absolutely remarkable. Natural reflexes that cue muscles to relax and contract when you stretch are conducive to proper elasticity, and overtime as those muscles modify and physiologically restructure with routine stretching, you experience plasticity as well. A proper balance of the two supports functional flexibility that powers strong biomechanics, balance, and coordination.

Stretching Won’t 100% Prevent Injury

While flexibility is important to preventing muscle strains, tears, and inflammation, no studies have proven that it can fully prevent injury. What stretching does do is prevent muscles from becoming short and tight. Stiff muscles which lack elasticity are more susceptible to injury from a sudden onset of strenuous activity or impact - this can lead to pain and even affect joint health, as joints rely on the fluid movement of muscles and other connective tissues.

Stretching Tools Can Help

Experiencing pain specifically in the foot? Or is muscle inflammation targeted mostly in your neck and shoulders? There are stretching tools that support and promote continuous stretching movements to alleviate swelling, pain, and even help prevent injury. A calf stretcher, for example, aids the foot in helpful stretches which benefit the calf and plantar fascia muscles. Exercise balls can be used to help stretch the spine and associated muscles and tendons, while foam rollers target almost every appendage, helping stretch back muscles to your glutes, hamstrings, calves and even your ankles.

Stretching and maintaining flexibility as you age is vital to not just leading an active and healthy lifestyle, but to preventing falls as well. Flexibility might mean the difference between tripping over a cord on the floor and quickly catching your balance, or tripping over a cord on the floor and falling to the ground, hurting yourself and possibly even going to the hospital. You may not bend, stretch, and tie into knots quite like Stretch Armstrong, but with routine (and proper) stretching, you can certainly get close.

This is a guest blog entry.

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