Stretching

Stretching is a form of physical exercise in which a specific muscle or tendon (or muscle group) is deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle’s felt elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone. The result is a feeling of increased muscle control, flexibility, and range of motion. Stretching is also used therapeutically to alleviate cramps.

In its most basic form, stretching is a natural and instinctive activity; it is performed by humans and many other animals. It can be accompanied by yawning. Stretching often occurs instinctively after waking from sleep, after long periods of inactivity, or after exiting confined spaces and areas.

Increasing flexibility through stretching is one of the basic tenets of physical fitness. It is common for athletes to stretch before (for warming up) and after exercise in an attempt to reduce risk of injury and increase performance. 

Stretching can be dangerous when performed incorrectly. There are many techniques for stretching in general, but depending on which muscle group is being stretched, some techniques may be ineffective or detrimental, even to the point of causing hypermobility, instability, or permanent damage to the tendons, ligaments, and muscle fiber. The physiological nature of stretching and theories about the effect of various techniques are therefore subject to heavy inquiry.

Although static stretching is part of some warm-up routines, a study in 2013 indicated that it weakens muscles. For this reason, an active dynamic warm-up is recommended before exercise in place of static stretching.

Types of Stretches

There are three kinds of stretching: static, dynamic (bouncing), and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF), where the muscle is passively stretched, then the muscle is contracted, then stretched further. However, static and dynamic stretching are the two most common forms seen. Dynamic stretching is a movement-based stretch aimed on increasing blood flow throughout the body while also loosing up the muscle fibers. An example of this could be high knees or lunges. Whereas static stretching is a more stationary stretch, where one will hold a stretch for a certain duration of time without moving. This will give the muscles a more intense and deeper stretch when compared to dynamic.

Stretching Tools

It's a good idea, says the American College of Sports Medicine. The ACSM recommends stretching each of the major muscle groups at least two times a week for 60 seconds per exercise. Staying flexible as you age is a good idea. It helps you move better. For example, regular stretching can help keep your hips and hamstrings flexible later in life. If your posture or activities are a problem, make it a habit to stretch those muscles regularly. If you have back pain from sitting at a desk all day, stretches that reverse that posture could help.

Stretching for sport and exercise improves flexibility, which increases the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion; in other words, how far it can bend, twist and reach. Some activities, such as gymnastics, require more flexibility than others, such as running.

Your decision to stretch or not to stretch should be based on what you want to achieve. "If the objective is to reduce injury, stretching before exercise is not helpful," says Dr Shrier. Your time would be better spent by warming up your muscles with light aerobic movements and gradually increasing their intensity. "If your objective is to increase your range of motion so that you can more easily do the splits, and this is more beneficial than the small loss in force, then you should stretch," says Dr Shrier. You should warm up by doing dynamic stretches, which are like your workout but at a lower intensity. A good warm-up before a run could be a brisk walk, walking lunges, leg swings, high steps, or "butt kicks" (slowly jogging forward while kicking toward your rear end). Start slowly, and gradually ramp up the intensity.

This is a great time to stretch. 

"Everyone is more flexible after exercise, because you've increased the circulation to those muscles and joints and you've been moving them," Millar says.

If you do static stretches, you'll get the most benefit from them now.

"After you go for a run or weight-train, you walk around a little to cool down. Then you do some stretching. It's a nice way to end a workout,"

Yes. It is not a must that you stretch before or after your regular workout. It is simply important that you stretch sometime. 

This can be when you wake up, before bed, or during breaks at work.

"Stretching or flexibility should be a part of a regular program," Millar says.

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