Maintain your flexibility: the importance of stretching

Flexibility is an important part of maintaining health. Lack of flexibility can lead to a reduced range of motion causing dysfunctional movement patterns and ultimately increasing the risk of injury. Yet relatively few people regularly work at their flexibility. For something that is relatively quick, easy and can be quite relaxing, we seem to almost actively avoid doing it. So I thought I’d explain some of the benefits of stretching and show you some easy and quick stretches that you can do to help integrate stretching into your life.

Benefits of stretching:

1. Stretching decreases the chance of injury. When a muscle is stretched beyond what it is used to it can tear or rupture. Obviously if we increase the amount that the muscle is ‘used to’ being stretched, we can decrease the chance of such injuries.

2. Stretching increases range of motion. Often the only thing preventing a full range of motion (ROM) is the muscles themselves. As we work our muscles we are effectively shortening them in one direction, making it harder to lengthen in the other. Regular stretching can help improve the ROM of a joint, leading to better (and more pain free) movement.
3. Stretching increases strength. By increasing the ROM of a joint you are also effectively increasing the power that can be generated (moving mass over a greater distance). More supple and flexible muscle tissue can assist in increasing the strength of that muscle. Independent studies have showed up to a 20% increase in usable strength is experienced in those undertaking stretching with exercise.
4. Stretching increases suppleness (for older people especially). As we age, our muscles start to ‘harden’ for lack of a better word, and become less supple. This creates a loss of the ROM and inhibits functional movements. This can lead to such real world scenarios like loss of strength and/or stability when performing squat-like movements (like picking up a box) to almost crippling dysfunction of the spine when bending (like tying your shoelaces – especially prevalent in older populations).
5. Stretching prevents Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS, that pain you get 12-48 hours after you’ve worked your muscles can be reduced  by stretching and a proper cool-down.
So that’s the ‘why’ part out of the way – for my next blog I will provide some information on the ‘how’ including some examples of particularly useful stretches and helpful tips.
Stuart Gadenne
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