When it comes to exercise; There are 3 components that you want to incorporate into your fitness routine that will help you achieve the best possible results and help you become a fitter and healthyier you. They are strength training, cardiovascular exercise and flexibility training. Of the 3 it is flexibility training that is often overlooked. Once thought to be only for rehabilitation and physical therapy; More and more studies are showing multiple benefits of stretching and flexibility training for everyone. Elite athletes, the elderly and the average person can experience benefits such as; Improvement in body stiffness and soreness, increased range of motion, improvement in functional every day movement, better posture and coordination and enhanced health and athletic performance. In fact the America College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) feels this type of training is so important that they now recommend flexibility routines to be performed 2 to 3 days per week.
Stretching or flexibility training should be performed at the end of an exercise session and prior to a cool down. If you are only performing flexibility exercises, remember it is important to never stretch a cold muscle, always warm up first with 8 to 10 minutes of an easy activity such as walking or light jogging. When practicing stretching and flexibility, the recommended duration is to hold each stretch for a minimum of 15 seconds and a maximum of 30 seconds. The following are the 4 types of stretching;
This is the safest and most recommended type of stretching. It is performed with a slow constant stretch and holding the end point without movement.
This is a sports performance type of stretching used to replicate the actions of a sport. It is most common for track and field athletes.
PNF Stretching (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretch)
This is a passive stretch, which typically requires a second person to use 3 different types of muscle actions. Be sure the person performing the PNF stretch has proper knowledge and training, otherwise there is potential for injury.
This type of stretching uses a quick bounce type movement and was popular in the 1970's and 1980's. It is now contraindicated for the average exerciser because of the potential for injury to muscles and connective tissue.
When incorporating a flexibility routine it is important to stretch your entire body. Never stretch a muscle to the point of pain; You should feel a comfortable stretch. With each different move know what muscles you are stretching and gently work into the stretch. Remember to hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Breathe deeply and relax when you are stretching! Yoga is a great source for this kind of exercise. Be sure to incorporate 2 to 3 days of flexibility routines per week and you will be amazed in the changes of your overall condition!