The benefits of muscle stretching, what can be prevented by doing it, static and dynamic stretching and when to do it: before or after training?
How able are we to bend in the various directions that our joints allow? For motor science and sports medicine, this ability to be flexible is measured with an English term: the Range of motion (Rom), or the degree of mobility.
Our body works mostly with agonist muscles, which contract, and antagonists, which simultaneously have to relax to allow the agonists to shorten in the contraction. Stretching exercises are based on this principle, which aim to improve flexibility and therefore the body's Roma.
- What is it for
- Why it is important to do it
- Static and dynamic stretching: what are the differences?
- Before or after training?
What is it for
Stretching therefore has as its primary objective the improvement of flexibility or, where there is a deficit, the recovery of a lost elasticity.
Its benefits are many:
- increases the elasticity of muscles and tendons, thus increasing the range of motion of the entire body.
- prevents muscle and joint trauma, often due to excessive contraction of some muscles.
- our joints have a certain range of motion which, if not trained and maintained, is reduced over time. Stretching and some activities in particular, such as Yoga, have the ability to preserve that potential that is clearly expressed in the body of a child, who naturally performs postures that are difficult if not impossible for adults. Yet "all grown-ups were children once", as the Little Prince reminds us.
- stretching exercises help to decrease blood pressure, therefore they are friends of longevity.
- improves coordination
- it improves proprioception, or the ability to perceive one's body in space, and therefore also balance
- relaxing the muscles also affects mental relaxation and stress reduction. With a psychosomatic effect, in fact, stress contracts the body, but in the same way we can have an inverse somato-psychic effect, so relaxing the body will have a similar effect on the mind.
According to some coaches, stretching also improves sports performance, but discussions are still open on this point, also because it depends a lot on the type of sport we are talking about. We therefore leave it to your personal analysis to assess whether or not stretching improves your particular physical activity.
Do not overdo it
As in all activities, stretching has many benefits, but be careful not to overdo it. The muscles must maintain the right balance between tone and elasticity: hypertonic muscles become rigid and are subject to trauma themselves, or to the joints on which they are inserted. But hyperlaxis muscles lose that stabilizing function for the skeleton, putting more at risk the joints that can become vulnerable. As Buddha said, the middle way is always the correct one.
Why it is important to do it
The human body is a complex organism of interdependent components. Focusing only on the musculoskeletal system, we can say that the muscles are the scaffolding that allows the skeleton to assume different postures that provide for correct alignment. By assuming incorrect postures for a long time, certain muscles shorten and others weaken, gradually creating postural imbalances, joint stiffness, or even blockages, resulting in painful syndromes. An example is low back pain that affects a very large number of people, often caused by a wrong and protracted way of sitting on chairs and sofas. Or neck pain, now increasingly caused by the incorrect positioning of the skull, leaning forward to look at smartphones, tablets and computers.
What is prevented by doing it
For those who do strength and power sports, a good stretching program that slightly increases the elasticity of the muscle has been shown to decrease the risk of injury, because it gives a greater capacity to the muscle-tendon structures to absorb load forces. . It therefore prevents muscle contractures, which over time can lead to trauma such as strains or even muscle tears, typical of hypertrophic and inelastic muscles.
Stretching prevents chronic pain, for example low back pain, sciatica and neck pain, often linked to postural problems. Diagnosis of vertebral columns (or parts of them) increasingly straight, rather than with their natural physiological curvatures, which allow the weight of the body to be cushioned and distributed over all the vertebrae, are increasingly frequent. Most people have excessively hunched shoulders. By assuming incorrect postures for a long time, some muscles contract and begin to shorten, pulling the skeleton into unnatural and misaligned postures. Sitting in a chair for 8 hours a day, for example, makes the muscles behind the thighs stiff. By making the muscles of the back, pelvis and legs more flexible, it is possible to reacquire a correct posture and therefore prevent these pains.
Static and dynamic stretching: what are the differences?
Set aside the old way of stretching with springing, a technique that is called ballistic stretching, because it has a high risk of muscle injuries since its goal was to go beyond the range of motion, today we focus on two other types of stretching: dynamic and static.
Mainly used in the warm-up of sports training, first you need to warm up the body. In short, a jog, hops, pedaling, cardiovascular activity is fine, ideally followed by rotations of the various joints of the body, neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists and so on. Dynamic stretching then consists in performing gradual and slow thrusts of the limbs, not uncontrolled as in ballistic stretching, in order to stretch the muscles but within one's range of motion. For example, you can perform the technical competition gesture that will then be done in the sport practiced, for which therefore you prepare yourself with this dynamic stretching that does not compromise performance, but can improve it.
It is the safest way to stretch, the one in which it is almost impossible to get hurt, and it is also the most effective way to improve flexibility. How you do it? Slowly, you take a position aimed at stretching a muscle group and remain in this posture for about 10 seconds, breathing. After this initial phase in which we are not yet at the maximum of our stretch, we inhale and exhale we try to stretch ourselves a little more going, now yes, in the maximum possible stretch, without painful sensation. This is where we are doing the actual stretching and where we will stay for at least 20 seconds. A discipline such as Yoga uses this type of stretch, the effect of which is maximized with the correct use of breathing.
Before or after training?
In the scientific community, the discussion on the usefulness of stretching before after training is open. Some say that before a strength sports performance, stretching would even be harmful, in the sense that it decreases performance and also puts you at risk of injury. However, these discussions are about professional athletes and their trainers, so if you're not aiming for the world record, a little warm-up and some stretching exercises before a workout is a good habit. No to stretching with cold muscles, on this one, yes, thumbs down unanimously.
Everyone agrees on stretching after training: it can be done, it must be done, it promotes muscle recovery and relaxes the muscles after having stimulated it in the opposite direction, in toning, bringing it back to a state of greater balance between strength and elasticity, preventing future trauma . Static stretching is the most effective after training.
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, is more suitable before training, even in sports, as a preparation for the next performance, because it stretches the muscles and improves their response.