Stretching is a very important part of fitness training as well as sport. It helps in three ways: First, it warms up the body and prepares the heart and the different muscles of the body to take the load of increased activity. Second, it increases your suppleness. And third, it helps your muscles avoid soreness after a match or workout by removing the lactic acid formed in them during the stress of exercise.
Before you do stretching exercises it is very important that you get your body as warm as possible. The best way of doing this is to jog, cycle or do spot running for 2-3 minutes. Do the stretching exercises ‘s.l.o.w.l.y’, as sudden shortening of muscles could result in ‘stretch reflexes’, which is counter-productive to stretching. Also, avoid ‘bouncing’ while stretching which could again cause ‘stretch reflexes’. We commonly see this being done in the toe-touching stretch, where the exerciser bends and ‘bounces’ to reach the toes. Stretch gently for no more than two seconds, but repeat the stretches several times.
Warm ups do not only mobilize your physiological systems but also help release ‘cortisol’, a stress hormone which speeds up your reaction time and helps you move quickly.
When you have had a moderate workout or a tough match, the store of lactic acid is built up in your muscles. Lactic acid limits the range of motion of your muscles, making you feel sore. What is more, it increases the risk of injury the next time you exercise. Therefore it is necessary that you ‘cool down’ immediately after you finish working out or playing a match, just as you warmed up (doing the same set of stretching exercises), to squeeze out the lactic acid from your muscles. This also helps bring your heart rate and body temperature to normal, gradually.
If you are into sports or fitness training, make stretching before and after your workout a habit. It will enhance your performances besides ‘stretching’ your active life.
A word of caution: Before you start your exercise programme, consult your doctor to make sure you do not suffer from any ailments to which physical effort may be detrimental.