I asked Judy Stowers, a licensed stretch therapist, to give me her two cents about the benefits of stretching. Judy stretches athletes for a living and if you've never had her put you through a session, you're missing out. Here's what Judy had to say:
BENEFITS: It is quite possible that the greatest benefit of stretching is that it FEELS GOOD!!! Our bodies adapt to stress much easier if the muscles in the body are free from tension. When the muscles in the body are free from this tension, we eliminate, or greatly reduce, the risks of injury.
Whether in sport or just in our activities of daily living, stretching can help eliminate pain and stiffness in our bodies. Stretching also greatly increases circulation in the body. This is important because our bodies need good blood and oxygen flow in order to operate efficiently.
WHEN TO STRETCH: You will read a variety of opinions on when to stretch. The best advice I can give you on this is to stretch post-workout. The exercise itself, running for example, should be its own warm up. The post-workout stretch is vital to helping the muscles with recovery.
Each time we workout or put stress on our muscles, it creates tiny micro tears in the muscles. Stretching will help the muscles recover from these tears and also help prevent soreness and injury. There are certainly cases where stretching before can also be beneficial but by taking the time after your workout, you are applying the greatest benefit to your muscles. Think of it as preparation for the next workout!
A NOTE ON BREATHING: Breathing during a session of stretching is vital to the process of lengthening our muscles and reducing the tension found in the muscles. If you are holding your breath while you are stretching, your body actually holds in the tension, thus eliminating the possibility for the muscle to relax and be lengthened. Tension will always decrease in the muscles as you breathe out! The body will not be able to feel relaxed in a stretch while the muscles are under tension. By breathing through the stretch you are performing, you can physiologically alter the state of the muscle to be in a relaxed and lengthened state.
BEST APPROACH: Again, you will find a variety of opinions on what is best. With my training, I have found the best approach to be a contract-relax (C-R) approach. With this approach, you can incorporate a brief contraction to the muscle, followed by a deeper stretch. After a very strong contraction, the muscle's resistance to elongation is temporarily reduced, allowing us to stretch deeper than we would otherwise be able to do. Following a pattern of C-R stretches will allow you to create the maximum amount of flexibility in the body!
There is much to be learned and applied with stretching! I encourage you to spend some quiet time stretching and really FEEL your muscles lengthen. If you take just a few minutes a day to stretch, you will feel invigorated and will perform better in your given sports and activities!
For more information about a personal stretching session, contact Judy at www.apexbodyworx.com. It's better than a massage!