Stretching is something that most sports people know they should be doing, but somehow few ever seem to get it right. Here’s the why, when and how you can incorporate stretching into your training schedule.

So why is stretching important? There are 3 main factors in favour of stretching. Firstly, it reduces the risk of injury. Secondly, it reduces muscle stiffness and soreness after exercise, and last, but not least, it improves your overall performance during exercise.

Stretching is generally performed in a relatively controlled fashion, so your chances of injuring yourself are generally less than when participating in your sport itself. It is however possible to overstretch ones muscles, which can cause microscopic tears of the muscle fibres, and lead to scarring. This in turns causes the muscles to lose elasticity, which can actually increase ones susceptibility to muscle tears

So what guidelines should one follow when embarking on a stretching programme?

You should never stretch cold muscles, a five minute warm up beforehand is essential. You should ideally stretch before and after your training session; if that isn’t possible, a pre session stretch is preferable as you will then reap the benefits during your training. Dynamic stretching can be very beneficial at the end of your warmup, but these must be performed carefully to avoid injury. You should always ease into a stretch gradually, and never bounce, as this form of ballistic stretching is likely to increase your risk of injury. Hold the stretch when it reaches the point of tension in the muscle (you must never push it into pain) for a count of 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times on both your left and right sides. Start with the easiest stretching exercises, progressing to the more complex ones. For maximum improvement, one should stretch 2-3 times a day for the first 2 weeks, and thereafter maintain with 3-5 sessions a week. This is obviously not easily achieved by most people, so as an alternative it is suggested that you stretch your tightest muscle groups with every training session, or at least once a day, then perform a more comprehensive stretching session 3-5 times a week.

By Michelle Saunders

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