Exercise and Stretching

by Barbara Foster

Regular stretching as a part of a weight-training or cardiovascular fitness routine can have benefits. Performing stretching exercises can increase flexibility. As flexibility increases, muscles become longer. Stretching also helps relax muscles to help prepare for some types of exercise. For this reason, exercise and stretching go hand in hand, and many athletes stretch before they exercise to help avoid injuries.

The Basics of Stretching

Static stretching involves holding a stretch position to place a minimal strain on a joint or a muscle. To perform a static stretch, you would concentrate on relaxing the part of the body you are stretching to allow it to stretch further in a natural fashion. Holding a static stretch for between 30 and 60 seconds is the general recommendation by physicians. Dynamic movement stretches differ significantly from static stretches. With a dynamic movement stretch, you engage in a motion that moves a body part more with every repetition. This type of stretching can be helpful for preparing joints and muscles for exercise. Dynamic stretching is also beneficial because it increases overall body temperature and specific muscle temperature.

Stretching can help improve posture because it lengthens muscles and helps with proper body alignment. Maintaining good posture helps with muscle soreness and overall fatigue levels. Some people find that stretching also has emotional benefits. By stretching, it's possible to release tension from body parts. Stretching may even increase energy and help refresh the mind to focus on tasks. Follow proper stretching technique to avoid injury. Never bounce to stretch because this could actually tear muscles. Stretching for at least 10 minutes two or three times each week should enhance flexibility.

Stretching and Weight Training

Weight training is effective for building and maintaining muscle. As people age, it's natural for muscle composition to gradually diminish. A loss of muscle composition can correlate to weight gain that often occurs with aging. This occurs because less muscle requires fewer calories to maintain. If the body needs fewer calories to maintain muscles, then eating the same number of calories over a lifetime will lead to weight gain. By performing regular weight-training exercises, people can maintain muscle composition and avoid weight gain.

Stretching can be a beneficial activity to perform prior to weight-training exercises. Some athletes believe that flexibility and strength cannot occur simultaneously. The opposite is actually true, however. By stretching to increase flexibility and performing strength-building exercises in tandem, it's possible to enhance fitness results. It is also beneficial to stretch immediately after a strength-training workout. At this time, muscles are fatigued from the exercises. The weight-lifting exercises have pumped up the muscles and shortened them temporarily. It's common for athletes to notice that muscles appear larger after strength training. Stretching at this time can enable the athlete to increase flexibility. Muscles will feel looser after stretching, and they can maintain a fuller range of motion. Muscles may even develop more by stretching after weight training. Finally, stretching after strength training can help reduce any residual muscle soreness that occurs.

Stretching and Cardiovascular Exercise

Before engaging in cardiovascular exercise, stretching can serve as an effective warmup for muscles. Because stretching enhances flexibility, muscles and joints will be more ready to perform the movements necessary for cardio exercise. An enhanced range of motion can help prevent some injuries. Athletes may also find that they perform better after stretching for several minutes before exercising. Another important component of cardiovascular exercise is stretching after the workout to cool down. The cool-down process helps muscles recover from the exercise. Many people, in an attempt to save time, skip cool-down stretches. Although it's tempting, cooling down helps athletes avoid muscle soreness. Stretching muscles after exercising is also beneficial for returning the heart to its resting rate at a slower pace. Simply stopping an exercise activity can be challenging for the body due to the abrupt change. By stretching all major muscle groups in a 10-minute cool-down phase, the body can adjust gradually to the change in activity level. Some stretches to try include walking lunges, torso twists, leg swings, and quadriceps stretches. These stretches will help prepare all of the muscle groups for movement by lengthening them gently. These same stretches are equally beneficial for helping muscle groups recover after an intense workout.