Stretch yourself: Benefits of stretching during exercising

No matter what form of exercise appeals to you - walking, jogging, weight training, or dancing - stretching ought to be a "must-do" part of your daily routine

Woman exercising
  • Stretching helps to release fatigue from tired muscles
  • It helps to improve blood circulation
  • It makes muscles more flexible and pliable
  • It helps to bring the heart rate back to normal after a work-out
  • It helps in preventing post-exercise soreness
  • It reduces chances of injury
  • It helps you to tune your mind and your body
  • It relaxes you and makes you feel good.

While stretching is a term that most people use generically, there are different types of stretches:

Ballistic stretching uses momentum to force a body part beyond its normal range of motion - e.g., bouncing, to touch the toes. Ballistic stretching is, however, not recommended for everyone as it can lead to injury.

Dynamic stretching involves moving parts of the body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both - e.g., stretching before aerobics, or martial arts.

Active stretching involves assuming a position and holding it without assistance - i.e., yoga.

Passive stretching involves assuming a position and holding it with the help of another body part - e.g., stretches you do in the gym. Passive stretches help to release spasm and prevent after-work-out soreness.

Isometric stretches involve contracting the muscles without any movement; they are usually a part of physiotherapy.

Dos & don'ts

Passive stretches are the simplest type of stretches and can be done in-between and after work-out in the gym, or after walking outdoors, or the treadmill, or even after a dance class. Passive stretches give the muscles the rest they need between sets and also help you increase the intensity and duration of your work-out. However, there are certain dos and don'ts you must bear in mind while doing them:

Always warm up before stretching. The worst fitness mistake you can make is to start your work-out without a warm up and get right into the stretching mode!

Always warm up before you stretch any muscles. Warming up will help you to get your blood circulating. It will also help raise your body temperature slightly, making your muscles more pliable

Stretching without warming up can lead to serious injuries. Warm up by walking on the treadmill or peddling the stationary bike at moderate speed for 5-7 minutes and then start your stretches

Hold your stretches. Since we are talking specifically about passive stretches in the gym, you must remember to hold these stretches for a minimum of eight seconds and a maximum of 30 seconds.

Don't bounce. Never do any bouncing movements while stretching. People usually do such stretches while bending forward to touch their toes. This can cause serious harm to your back. Instead of making you more flexible, this type of stretching can sometimes cause serious injury

Timing. The timing of stretches is extremely important. Most people who go to gyms, waste time after a work-out and remember to stretch only after the work-out is over. Keeping too much of a gap between work-outs and stretching will cause your body to cool down and you might end up hurting yourself.

Stretch in-between sets and right after the work-out; don't delay it.

Know when to stop. Most physiotherapists are doing brisk business. It's mainly due to people being overzealous whether at the gym, or in a yoga class. Don't stretch your muscles till the point of pain. Teach yourself to read your body signals. If a stretch position is making you uncomfortable, stop immediately and rest the muscle till it is back to normal.

Remember: you are exercising to become strong, not weak!

Benefits of Stretching

Regular stretching adds value to your fitness goals and helps you experience the following benefits:

    • Increased flexibility and better range of motion to your joints. Flexible muscles can improve your daily performance. Tasks such as lifting packages, bending to tie your shoes, or hurrying to catch a bus become easier and less tiring. Flexibility tends to diminish as you get older, but you can regain and maintain it with stretching practices
    • Improved circulation. Stretching increases blood
    • to your muscles. Blood flowing to your muscles brings nourishment and gets rid of waste by-products in the muscle tissue. Improved circulation can help shorten your recovery time if you've had muscle injuries
    • Better posture. Frequent stretching can help keep your muscles from getting tight, allowing you to maintain proper posture. Good posture can minimise discomfort and keep aches and pains away
    • Stress relief. Stretching relaxes tight, tense muscles that often accompany stress
    • Enhanced co-ordination. Maintaining the full range

of motion through your joints keeps you in better balance. Co-ordination and balance will also keep you mobile and less prone to injury from falls, especially as you get older.

- Team CW

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Samreedhi Goel
Samreedhi Goel is a Nutritionist and Personal trainer & fitness columnist who has been a part of the fitness industry since 1999. She has helped hundreds of people shape up, lose weight, achieve the body of their dreams, become fitter and healthier individuals and overcome chronic health problems through her fitness studio Size Wise.Her fitness columns and interviews appear on a regular basis in prestigious publications like Complete Wellbeing, Sunday Midday, Rediff.com, Seventeen India, Mumbai.

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