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The benefits of Stretching

exercise | June 25, 2017 | Author: Naturopath


The benefits of Stretching

When asked how much stretching people do the answer always seems to be 'very little'. Evan those keen on sport don’t seem to put stretching high on the list of importance to their exercise routine. So in this article we explore the benefits of stretching and determine if it is necessary.

For an athlete or anybody who is enthusiastic about exercise, the risk of an injury can be devastating, and yet the on the list for the principle of injury prevention, is warm-up and stretching.

Range of motion

range of motionThe way any of us move is dependent on our range motion (ROM) which is facilitated by our joints and our muscles. This can be limited by the condition of joints and their capsule and surrounding ligament structures.

Muscle provides both passive and active tension which can be limited by poor innervation and the condition of the muscle fibres and fascia (the tissue surrounding the muscle).

Muscle tightness can occur due to postural changes (bad posture) and scaring (damage to muscle); spasms or contractions which shorten the muscle, this then limits the range of motion. Stretching allows the muscle to lengthen.

The warm-up

warm-upThe purpose of the warm up is to prepare the body for exercise. The type of warm-up is determined by the exercise to be performed. The most effective warm-up usually would include general exercise like jogging and calisthenics (aerobic type exercise), stretching, resistant exercise and movements mimicking the activity about to begin.

The benefits:

  • Blood vessels dilate allowing for increased oxygen rich blood flow to muscles
  • Chemical reactions are increased within the cells
  • Sensitivity of nerve receptors is enhanced allowing for increased speed of nerve impulses
  • Muscle fibres relax and contractions become smoother
  • The increased range of motion decreases possibility of injury
  • There is a decrease in the stiffness to connective tissue
  • An increase in cardiovascular response to sudden exercise
  • An increase relaxation and concentration

The warm- up should be started 30 - 45 minutes before the exercise, it should last 15 - 30 minutes and should induce a mild sweat with-out fatigue.


stretchingAn increase in flexibility from stretching may result in a reduction of muscle and tendon injuries.

Stretching can allow a joint to move through a full range of movement, enhance athletic performance and alleviate muscle soreness after exercise.

Overactivity, lack of activity or injury can reduce the movement of joints and muscles and they can become stiff.

Other benefits of stretching

Reduce arterial stiffness. A study using middle aged men found a significant reduction in arterial stiffness was achieved through short term regular stretching. The study was done over a 4 week period and comprised 30 min of mild stretching that moved the major muscle groups through the full range of motion and stretches that were held three times for 20 seconds at the end range.

Wellbeing. A study using workers in a logistic factory found short duration stretching (10minutes) helped reduce anxiety levels, body pain and exhaustion and, in addition, raised levels of vitality, mental health, general health and flexibility in workers. Method included taking the main muscle groups, and those with a tendency of shortening, through a range of motion stretching and relaxation of the muscle. The study suggests stretching was a low cost option for improving the well-being of workers.

Lower back pain. Study comparing yoga, stretching and self - help books found stretching to be the most beneficial to helping lower back pain.


flexibilityFlexibility is often determined by hereditary but can be enhanced by stretching. Dynamic and Static are two types of flexibility.

  • Static describes the degree to which joints can be passively moved to end points of range of motion. This is the one for injury prevention.
  • Dynamic is the degree to which a joint is moved as a result of muscle contraction. This is the one important to athletes.

Types of Stretches

Static stretches - are gentle stretches of the muscle that are held for 30-60 seconds and are considered the safest stretch for increasing flexibility. No pain or discomfort should be felt.

Ballistic stretching - the muscle is stretched to its limit, and then more pressure is applied to increase the stretch by using a bouncing movement. This action has a potential for causing injury and is not recommended. Athletes, such as ballet dancers and gymnast, may use this technique at the end of their stretching program to produce maximum range of motion. This stretch should always start with warm up and slow static stretching.

PNFProprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching - PNF stretching is the alternating of contraction and relaxation of both agonist and antagonist muscles. It is believed to offer the greatest achievement of flexibility but may lead to over-stretching of the muscles. This technique requires a partner and should not be performed until after muscles have been well warmed up.

Principles of stretching

  • Warm-up muscles before beginning stretches
  • Stretch before and at the end of exercise
  • Make sure your stretch is gentle, focused and slow
  • Never overstretch to the point of pain

Over stretching can damage muscle fibres resulting in small muscle tears and reducing muscle elasticity.

Nutrition to help


magnesium joint stiffnessMagnesium is needed for nerve transmission into muscle fibres giving muscle its action; it supports protein synthesis which helps the growth of new muscles and repair; it aids in muscle energy production.

A deficiency of magnesium can result in an excess of calcium which can build - up in soft tissue, ligaments and tendons, this leads to stiffness and pain in joints and muscles. Magnesium participates in over 300 other activities in the body.

Foods containing magnesium include: almonds, cashews, cocoa, eggs, figs, kelp, leafy green vegetables and wholegrain cereals.
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Proteins form the building block of most body structures which includes muscle, tendons, ligaments and bone. It is required for ongoing repairs and rebuilding that has to occur. This is especially important for muscles as they are continuously being broken down and repaired. Protein sources include: meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds and grain combinations.

Any stretching will increase the range of motion for a joint, may help anxiety, increase energy and vitality, offer pain relief and be beneficial to athletes, older people, for rehabilitation and the general population. You can enjoy a good stretch anytime just keep in mind to do your stretch with care and concentration and when your body is warmed-up.
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Brukner P, Khan K, 1993, Clinical Sports Medicine, McGraw-Hill Book Company Aust

A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance

Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation

Four weeks of regular static stretching reduces arterial stiffness in middle-aged men

[Effectiveness of a stretching program on anxiety levels of workers in a logistic platform: a randomized controlled study]

A randomized trial comparing yoga, stretching, and a self-care book for chronic low back pain

Osiecki H, The Nutrient Bible 9th edition, Bio Concepts Publishing

Whitney, Cataldo, Rolfes, (2002) Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition 6th Edition, Wadsworth, USA

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