Stretch it! The benefits of stretching as part of your exercise routine

Come listen to Ciarán Aherne’s practical advice on stretching and flexibility at his talk on Saturday May 12th at 12 noon and reduce chances of injury during your exercise routine – handouts available at the talk illustrating easy daily stretches!

As you age, your muscles tighten and range of motion in the joints can be minimised. This can put a damper on active lifestyles and even hinder day-to-day, normal motions. Tasks that used to be simple, such as zipping up a dress or reaching for a can off of the top shelf, now become extremely difficult. A regular stretching programme can help lengthen your muscles and make daily living activities easier.

Everyone can learn to stretch, regardless of age or flexibility. Stretching should be a part of your daily routine, whether you exercise or not. We have included some useful tips below to help you prepare more effectively for your exercise sessions, and how beneficial stretching can be even if you don’t get around to doing much exercise!

Our resident physical therapist Ciarán Aherne will talk you through the benefits of stretching and provide effective stretching techniques for you in your relevant exercise, from running to aerobic training, from yoga to pilates.

When done properly, stretching can do more than just increase flexibility, and the benefits include:

  • enhanced physical fitness
  • enhanced ability to learn and perform skilled movements
  • increased mental and physical relaxation
  • enhanced development of body awareness
  • reduced risk of injury to joints, muscles, and tendons
  • reduced muscular soreness and tension
  • increased suppleness due to stimulation of the production of chemicals which lubricate connective tissues

Unfortunately, even those who stretch do not always stretch properly and hence do not reap some or all of these benefits. Some of the most common mistakes made when stretching are:

  • improper warm-up
  • inadequate rest between workouts
  • overstretching
  • performing the wrong exercises
  • performing exercises in the wrong (or sub-optimal) sequence

Here are some tips when preparing for your exercise sessions:

Warm Up and Cool Down: Stretching is important during your warm-up, because it increases blood flow to the muscles. But stretching during your cool-down may be even more important. Stretching helps to remove lactic acid from the muscle; this reduces muscle soreness and promotes better flexibility.

Don’t Overstretch: While stretching can promote flexibility, stretching too far can actually damage the muscles —particularly if you’re recovering from an injury. A healthy muscle can elongate up to 1.6 times its length, but generally doesn’t respond well to that much stretching.  By overstretching, you create an automatic muscle spindle reflex that actually will cause the muscle to recoil to protect itself from tearing and injury, causing further tightness in the muscle. Also, don’t bounce while stretching; holding your stretch in a static position works best.

Combine Stretching and Strengthening: A good time to do your stretching exercises is while resting between lifts during your strength training. Strength training will not decrease your flexibility as long as you do it properly and perform your lifts through their full range of motion.

Use MICE Rather Than RICE: Health professionals frequently promote RICE as one way of treating an injury: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. But it’s better to promote MICE:  Move it!! This is because immobilizing a muscle can lead to decreased blood flow and muscle wastage. If you stretch properly while recovering from an injury, you can speed that recovery.

Resist Ageing: It’s believed that ageing is not the only factor that causes us to lose flexibility, its lack of exercise. Studies show that a sedentary lifestyle is a bigger factor in decreasing flexibility than ageing. If you stay active aerobically and use stretching to maintain your flexibility, you will look and feel younger because of the way you move.

About the author: Ciaran Aherne

Ciaran Aherne

Ciarán Aherne – BSc, BA, MIAPT – Ciarán completed his BSc in Physical Therapy in the Institute of Physical Therapy in Milltown, Dublin. He is a member of the Irish Association of Physical Therapists. Ciarán also has a certificate in Massage Therapy. As a Physical Therapist, Ciarán uses a range of manual techniques and “hands-on” therapy to assist rehabilitation from musculoskeletal injuries, back and neck pain, postural problems, sprains/strains and sports injuries among other issues. Treatments are tailored to each individual but can include; myofascial trigger-point release, deep tissue massage, mobilisation of the spine and specific exercise prescription. Ciarán has treated people from a variety of sporting backgrounds e.g. running, basketball, soccer, Gaelic football, hockey. Prior to his Physical Therapy studies, Ciarán completed a degree in Leisure and Recreation Management and has worked extensively with athletes involved in the Special Olympics.

Visit my Google+ page

The elbowroom has an extensive range of classes for all ages and abilities. We offer such an eclectic mix to enable you to find something that will suit you. If you need any advice, please contact our class advisor who can point you in the right direction.