I often think that we in the fitness industry can make things more complicated than they really ought to be. We sometimes try to show our expertise by throwing around terminologies and scientific data when a very simple explanation would do. Take for example strength training - we could simply say "Lift weight, lower the weight and repeat as necessary without jerky movements." Another area is stretching which is now being turned into brain surgery. I say let's take our cues from dogs and cats. They have a great time stretching and make all sorts of noises that demonstrate how enjoyable stretching can be.
We are naturally inclined to stretch our bodies. For example after spending a long time in one position or in the morning our body will instinctively make us stretch. The "good morning" stretch is one of the first thing we do when we wake up. This happens when you extend your arms wide and open up your chest area (usually accompanied by a yawn.) Even newborn babies stretch as they announce to the world they have arrived. Stretching is not a new science, it's a natural impulse.
There was a recent New York Times article on the right and the wrong way to stretch that has generated a heated conversation in the training world. It pretty much says that what most people consider proper stretching technique (static stretching which involves holding your stretch for a period of time) can actually do more harm than good. The article emphasizes that dynamic stretching is the best form of stretch. Dynamic stretching is a more functional based way to stretch that involves body movement and a recent study says that it improves performance and reduce more injuries when compared to static stretching.
Let me try and clear up the confusion about stretching and how best you can improve performance and reduce injuries by saying that warming up the body prior to vigorous body movements is better than any stretching you can do. The benefit of dynamic stretching is that it incorporates movement and stretching, but the main benefit is in the movement. Movement warm ups gently raises the heart rate and increase body tissue temperature and provides better oxygenated blood flow to your muscles. More importantly warming up your body allows the secretion and thinning of synovial fluid (lubricant for joints and tendons) to lubricate and cushion the moving parts of your body.
It's counter productive to hold a static stretch after warming up because this brings your body temperature down. In addition, the best time to stretch is early in the morning. This without a doubt will improve both your physical and mental performance through out the day. Start your day with a few static stretches followed by some light dynamic stretches. I've listed 2 books that I highly recommend that will get you stretching, feeling good and restoring your fountain of youth. They are a fantastic resource.
Health and Happiness
Published On: November 09, 2008