I love stretching. I find it so relaxing and after I’m done my body feels so loose and rejuvenated. Unfortunately, one of the most neglected components of fitness is flexibility. Flexibility doesn’t just improve your range of motion (ROM), it also helps to relax your muscles, improve your muscle balance and help prepare your muscles for activity.
If you have poor flexibility this could very well be the cause of injuries, low back pain and chronic headaches. The tightness involved with having poor flexibility increases your risk and makes you more prone to these injuries.
In order to effectively stretch your muscles, there are a few factors that you need to take into consideration.
- Duration: How long you hold the stretch for.
- Intensity: How hard to push a stretch.
- Temperature: How warm are your muscles.
- Degree of relaxation: How much tension is in a muscle.
- Type of force applied: Static, active PNF etc.
- Alignment of muscle fibres: Which direction to pull your muscles in.
Duration, Intensity, Temperature
To see results with you flexibility you would want to try and go for a “permanent stretch” which you can get by stretching for a relatively long period of time, with a low force and having an elevated body temperature.
If you do the opposite and stretch for a short amount of time, with a high force and cold muscles then the muscles you just stretched will return to it’s original position restricting you from improving your flexibility.
Relaxation, Force, Alignment
If your muscles aren’t relaxed when you try to stretch them, you run the risk of injuring yourself. If your muscles go into spasm while you stretch, retreat a bit until you feel tension and not pain.
The force at which you apply to your stretching can also impact your relaxation. Push too hard and the muscle won’t relax. Again aim for getting to the point of tension and not pain.
To be able to stretch specific muscles properly you need to make sure that the muscle you are stretching are directly in the line of the stretch.
In order to have a well rounded flexibility program you should include at least one stretch for each of your major muscle group (neck, front of upper thigh, back of upper thigh, shoulders, chest and back).