As thousands of world class,
Olympic and professional athletes are rapidly discovering,
the practice of regular safe stretching can be a crucial
factor in achieving goals related to peak athletic
performance. Fortunately, you donít have to be a Tiger
Woods or Ironman competitor to reap the long-term health
benefits of various types of gentle stretching techniques.
Although safe 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 safely 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).
Combining strength training
with gentle 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.
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
You should always warm up
prior to exercise, and cool down afterward in order to
prevent soft tissue injury. Stretching exercises 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.
I have personally
witnessed the considerable difference that stretching has
made in my own health and that of the patients that I have
treated over the years. 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.