For over 30 years, I have personally witnessed the amazing difference that stretching has made in my own health and that of the patients and clients that I have worked with. If you are feeling stiff and tired, you owe it to yourself to take a few minutes each day to counteract the negative effects of gravity and stress by stretching your magnificent body. You might be surprised by how much more energized, strong and healthy you feel.
Although stretching has gained considerable popularity in the past few years, various forms of stretching have been around for thousands of years, and are an integral component of ancient Eastern disciplines such as Tai Chi, Qigong, and Yoga. Recently, practitioners of Pilates and similar methods are discovering the awesome benefits of stretching and strengthening exercises in their daily lives, as well.
There are basically two different ways to stretch the joints and muscles of the body; by using either passive range of motion or active range of motion. Active stretching involves the participant actively stretching their joints and muscles on their own whereas passive, assisted stretching techniques involve moving the joints through their normal ranges of motion with assistance from another person.
Both passive and active stretching not only elongate the muscles and improve posture, but increase circulatory flow, and decrease muscle spasm, while increasing normal range of motion in the joints. These benefits can be of particular interest to those suffering from stiffness in the joints due to conditions such as osteoarthritis (the degenerative, wear and tear type of arthritis).
The Secrets of Stretching
It is important to remember that improper stretching and insufficient time spent warming up before exercise can result in serious soft tissue damage, involving muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Inadequate stretching can result in minute tears or ruptures of individual muscle fibers, which are not always immediately noticeable. Once the soft tissue is torn, it loses some of its elasticity, and becomes a weak spot that is prone to future injury.
You should always warm up prior to exercise, and cool down afterward in order to prevent soft tissue injury. Stretches should be done slowly and gently, taken to a comfortable position, and held steadily. Your body is constantly giving you warning signs and internal feedback that you should pay attention to when deciding how far to stretch a joint or how long to hold a stretch.
It is crucial that you breathe deeply while stretching in order to gain optimal cardiovascular and respiratory system benefits. Combining strength training with stretching increases the odds that your joints will not only be flexible but also strong and stable. Strengthening specific muscles and muscle groups with the use of resistance (such as that involved in weight training) helps provide stability and support to all of the major joints of the body.
As thousands of world class, Olympic, and professional athletes are rapidly discovering, the practice of regular stretching can be a crucial factor in achieving goals related to peak athletic performance. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a Michael Phelps or an Ironman competitor to reap the long-term health benefits of various types of stretching techniques. It's easy and feels good, so why not start now?