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Stretching – Is It Important?

Stretching, by definition, is to be capable of being made longer or wider without tearing or breaking. Stretching can : increase flexibility, increase your range of motion, improve performance in physical activities, increase blood flow to muscles, aid with stress relief . Stretching is something we’ve all heard about and something that likely we’ve all been told to do, whether it be for sport, because we’re sore or simply because you can’t touch your toes like you used to be able to. An analogy I’d like to share with you; “Stretching is like washing dirty dishes. It’s easiest and best to do them straight after you’ve used them.” Now we can apply this to physical activity, its best to stretch those hamstrings and calves now that they’re warm and active, rather than waiting until next morning when you’re stiff and tired. It simply won’t produce the same results for recovery or range. YOU MUST WARM UP BEFORE YOU STRETCH! If you’re like me you can still envisage your sporting coach forcing you to stretch, stretch and stretch again before going to kick the first footy for the night, but as with many practices over the years with the evolution in sport science, we now know the conventional ‘static stretching’ is potentially detrimental to performance and muscle health. A study in the American College of Sports Medicine found that static stretching weakened the muscle on a neurological level, leaving the muscle more prone to tear and decreased performance. So what can you do to warm up? Stretching and warming up is vital in sport and injury prevention. Coaches and teams need to alter their methods to the ‘dynamic variation’ of stretching. For example the old fashioned bend down and touch your toes was a classic hamstring stretch before training, but this rapid change in length (and often on a cold wintery night) can put extra strain on our hamstrings before playing. Instead, opt for ‘leg swings’ you’ll notice elite sportsman leaning on each other, a fence or a post, taking their leg through a simple kicking/swinging motion gradually increasing through further range – this is a great dynamic stretch that promotes blood flow and active lengthening of the muscle. Walking and slow cycling are also great ways to warm up and increase blood flow before stretching.

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