Stretching relaxes the body and improves flexibility. As athletes, it should be part of your daily life.
- Reduces muscle tension and enhances relaxation
- Helps co-ordination by allowing for easier movement
- Increases range of motion
- Prevents injuries such as muscle strains (pre-stretched muscle resists stress better than a non-stretched muscle)
- Prepares you for strenuous activity
- Develops body awareness
- Promotes circulation
Stretching should be performed in the early part of the warm-up and cool-down phases of exercise. The correct way to stretch is with a relaxed, sustained stretch, with your attention focussed on the muscles being stretched.
Regular stretching helps to make movements easier, however it may take time to loosen tight muscles – be patient!
The Stretch Reflex
The muscles are protected by a mechanism called “The Stretch Reflex”. Anytime the muscles are stretched too far, the nerves respond by signalling the muscles to contract – this helps prevent muscle injury. Therefore if you stretch too far, you tighten the muscles you are aiming to stretch.
Holding a stretch as far as you can go or bouncing up and down strains the muscles and activates the stretch reflex. This can cause pain and tissue damage.
Step One – The Easy Stretch
When you begin a stretch, spend 20 breaths in the easy stretch. Go to the point where you feel mild tension and relax as you hold the stretch. The feeling of tension should subside as you hold that position – if not, ease off slightly. This stretch reduces muscular tightness.
Step Two – The Developmental Stretch
After the Easy Stretch, move slowly into the Developmental Stretch. Move a fraction of an inch further until you again feel a mild tension. Hold for 30 breaths. Be in control. Again, the tension should subside – if not, ease off slightly. This stretch increases muscle flexibility.