It is said that for ideal health and fitness, the muscles of the body need to be strong, supple, responsive, resistant to fatigue and in balance with one another. Stretching is a major component in obtaining these good results. Muscle, postural and biomechanical balance is always something to work towards. Being flexible in one region of the body does not mean that an individual will be flexible in all other areas. A strong indication for remedial massage and flexibility work is the improvement of muscle balance.
Many centers in the Western world incorporate yoga and martial arts which teach certain breathing techniques, stretches and postures for their health-giving benefits. The physical crux of both yoga and martial arts has been strength, flexibility, agility, co-ordination, balance and endurance. Not much has changed since these systems were originally developed.
The degree of flexibility an individual has is gauged against generally accepted norms and against what could be realistically expected for the individual concerned, given their age, state of health or fitness. Factors affecting flexibility are the type of joint (the specificity of flexibility); elasticity of muscle, tendon, fascia, skin and ligaments; muscle mass; body fat; body type; ability to relax; body temperature; age; sex; injuries and pathologies; postural and biomechanical deviations; environmental temperature; time of day; fitness level; normal fitness training routine undertaken; and occupation.
Without regular stretching, muscles and joints tend to experience restricted flexibility. This leaves the individual vulnerable to injury. For example, when a muscle is called upon to stretch suddenly in any activity, if it is unable to reach the necessary length, then something has to give, and it will be the structure of the muscle that will tear. And although stretching is well recommended by most experts and sports massage therapists, it is still often neglected or paid insufficient attention by exercisers. However, just as poor flexibility has potential consequences for restricting functional abilities and increasing the individual’s susceptibility to soft-tissue injuries, the situation of increased flexibility, or hyper flexibility, presents its own set of potential problems. This type of flexibility is usually attended to with strength rather than flexibility training and support to the affected joint during potentially aggravating activities.
The benefits of stretching on a regular basis are loose muscles, better mobilization of joints and improved postural balance, biomechanical efficiency, relaxation to the muscles, circulation, neuromuscular responsiveness, performance, recovery from training and competition, and flexibility. Stretching also develops body awareness, helps to prevent injuries, reduces exercise related muscle soreness and helps to treat soft-tissue injuries, adhesions and scar tissue.
In Stretching 102 the different types of stretching and when and how to apply them will be discussed.
Rainee Matseichyk LMT