The importance of STRETCHING & FLEXIBILITY.
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
Stretching is a means to achieve body flexibility and is one of the most ignored components of fitness primarily because it does not directly help burn fat or build muscle. However, stretching is as important as any other component of fitness. It makes us more flexible, increases mobility and decreases the susceptibility to injuries. The more flexible we are, the lesser is our chance of injury due to a stiff muscle. Also, stretching ensures our muscles remain supple enough to train for fat burning and muscle building. Therefore, it is critical to make stretching a part of our fitness routine. This article helps understand the importance and the science of stretching & flexibility.
Note: Although body flexibility and stretching do not mean the same, both terms have been used interchangeably for easy understanding in this article.
What is BODY FLEXIBILITY?
The ability of the body to sustain a complete range of motion around joints is called body flexibility.
What is STRETCHING?
As defined on Wikipedia - stretching is a form of physical exercise where we deliberately flex specific muscles or tendons to improve the muscle's felt elasticity and achieve a comfortable muscle tone. Stretching helps achieve body flexibility.
What are the BENEFITS of STRETCHING?
Easier to keep correct posture.
Better prevention of injuries.
Ease and comfort in movements.
Increased energy efficiency.
Improved range of motion.
Better overall physical performance.
What Happens when we STRETCH?
Let us understand the role of two critical sensory receptors that help us stretch:
Golgi Tendon Organ.
The golgi tendon organ is found at the musculotendinous junction and recognises tension developed around the same when a muscle stretches. The muscle spindle is found surrounding the muscle fibres and recognises changes in the length of muscle fibres. Information on muscle tension and muscle length changes pass to the central nervous system (CNS) through sensory nerves. If tension holds for some time, the muscle fibres can separate from tendons connecting muscles to bones. The interaction between actin and myosin results in muscle contraction. The central nervous system (CNS) uncouples actin and myosin filaments to prevent damage due to separation. This process is called autogenic inhibition.
When we stretch a muscle to its limit, the CNS initially contracts the muscle as a reflex action to prevent damage and bring it back to its normal position. In about 5 seconds of holding a stretch, the pain decreases as the body realises that to prevent the muscle from decoupling with the tendon, it should relax the muscle. The muscle starts relaxing and autogenic inhibition sets. The uncoupling of actin and myosin resulting in autogenic inhibition is temporary and is more noticeable in repeat stretches. The second time we do the same stretch, there is significantly lesser pain due to less involuntary muscle contraction. We stretch with more comfort as autogenic inhibition sets. Thus, it is imperative to stretch at least twice and hold the position for a minimum of 15 to 20 seconds.
Although stretching (holding & repeating the stretch for increased flexibility) before exercise, workout, training, or any intense activity increases mobility, it decreases the contractile ability of muscles and affects physical performance. Therefore, stretching should always be done after exercise or training.
Tips to get the most from our STRETCHING SESSIONS:
Remember that stretching is a form of exercise and is as vital as any other fitness component.
Stretching requires us to be calm and have mind control. Have a set-up that helps in stretching. For example, a quiet environment and soulful music help us calm down and stretch better.
The moment we stretch, the muscle involuntarily contracts, and there is mild pain. Continue to hold the stretch so that autogenic inhibition sets in and the muscle relaxes.
Stretch at least twice to make use of the autogenic inhibition. So, the second time we do the same stretch, it is easier than the first one.
Jerky and bouncy movements do not stretch our muscles and have a high potential to cause injury.
Do not hold your breath while stretching. Breathe normally.
Do not overstretch as it has the potential to cause injury.
We hope the article helped us understand the importance and the science of stretching & flexibility.