Did You Know Stretching Could Improve Your Overall Health?
Can some simple physical motions dramatically improve your overall health, wellness, and quality of life? In the case of stretching, the answer is most definitely yes.
Many folks beginning an exercise or physical therapy regimen are given a specific set of exercises, but these instructions don’t always come with proper guidance on the stretching that should accompany the program.
Stretching exercises are a staple of physical therapy for just that reason. You might be surprised to discover just how many ways stretches can help you, especially if they are performed correctly.
To ensure that you can either avoid – or avoid exacerbating – injuries, here’s a comprehensive guide to different types of stretching and their benefits.
PNF stretching, short for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, is a set of techniques most commonly encountered in a rehabilitation setting to restore range of motion to an injured or weakened muscle.
Begin by moving the limb in question or target muscle into a stretched position, and then contract that muscle group for 4-6 seconds while a helper or fixed object (like a wall or table) provides resistance that keeps everything in place.
Release the contraction, and hold the stretched pose in place for 20-30 seconds before shaking loose and taking another 30-45 seconds to relax completely and then repeat in cycles.
By combining both passive and active fundamentals, PNF stretching can be a highly effective “best of both worlds” choice, making for a safe set of exercises ideal for recovery.
Stretching is all about improving performance and preventing injury, so in order to really enjoy the benefits it’s imperative that one understand when each is most applicable, and not get overzealous trying to speed up gradual improvements!
Dynamic techniques are a bit more lively, putting the body in motion and relying on momentum to flow through a series of repeated movements.
Consider a hamstring stretch in which the leg is swung upward in a kick through its range of motion, but gradually increasing in height with each pass.
It’s important to know the limits of the regular range of motion, as excess momentum can put the limb in a compromising over extended position likely to cause injury.
A baseball player or someone preparing for a throwing motion might begin their shoulder warm-up with widening, concentric arm circles, expanding the range of motion bit by bit until the regular full range is accounted for.
For most folks, images of “stretching” tend to conjure passive techniques. Whether the pose is held by hand or with gravity, one is largely stationary and exerts a force to lengthen the target muscle by reaching the outer limits of the range of motion.
Consider bending at the waist for a toe touch, but these hamstring stretches are typically performed incrementally, holding a position or pose for more than 30 seconds, before progressing to a deeper stretch and holding.
Poses that can be held for a long time are likely an indication that the muscle isn’t reaching its outer capabilities, and warrant a gradual, deeper stretch.
While passive stretching is ideal for promoting overall flexibility and balance, the prolonged extension of muscles prior to intense activity can hinder explosive abilities, making it a better choice for cooling down after a workout rather than immediately prior to major exertion.
Active stretching techniques require adopting and holding a position or pose using only the muscles in the corresponding group to the one being targeted.
Consider an ankle being flexed back and forth as examples, but the calf muscles involved in holding toes in a pointed position or raised toward the shin are referred to as the “agonist” and “antagonist,” as they perform opposing functions. In any stretch, the agonist muscle is the one contracting and the antagonist is the one lengthening.
While this technique can be applied all over the body, allow the limbs or joints in question to move naturally through their full range of motion, holding at each end.
This is ideal when warming up in preparation for an activity, rather than lengthening the muscle as part of a proactive program to improve flexibility.
How can stretching help with wellness?
Stretching provides numerous benefits to help your body keep itself healthier. One of the most important of these is stress relief. Everyday life throws lots of challenges at you, and the resulting stress can be held in your muscles.
This leads to tightness, spasms, and chronic discomforts such as headaches and neck pain. Stress also floods your body with “fight or flight” hormones such as cortisone and adrenaline. These imbalances can suppress your immune function, making you more vulnerable to viruses and other diseases. Hypertension is yet another dangerous consequence of chronic stress.
Regular stretches help your body release all that pent-up stress. By relaxing and loosening your muscles, you can maintain better control over your blood pressure, avoid chronic muscle pain, and keep your immune system ready for anything.
Gain the benefits today!
There are right ways and wrong ways to stretch. For one thing, different kinds of stretches offer different benefits. Your particular situation might call for active stretches (in which you move a body part with no assistance), passive stretches (in which the body part is held or supported), or both.