Too busy to stretch? Too bad. With right technique, you can get stronger, more flexible muscles and a workout with punch. Plus, it feels good.
Ever seen a cat or a dog stretch? Next time, look closely and take notes. They know what they’re doing, and they seem to enjoy If only the same could be said for humans. Most people still believe that if they throw a leg up on a bench and bounce a couple of times after a run, they’ve stretched. Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it.
How to Do a Safe Flex
You don’t have to take our word for it. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team never leaves the practice field without doing a 10-minute flexibility routine. Michael Jordan credits his 13-season nearly injury-free career in part to his daily stretching regimen. And former tennis star Tracy Austin is convinced that if she had bothered to stretch as much as the players do today, she wouldn’t have suffered her career-ending back injury.
So if people whose bodies are their business have wised up to the necessity of stretching, why does everyone else treat it like chemistry homework? “There is so much research to back up the benefits of being flexible,” says Len Kravitz, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of New Mexico, who has reviewed hundreds of studies on stretching. Scientific evidence supports stretching’s power to increase range of motion, reduce postworkout soreness and soothe a stressed-out mind.
While stretching may seem like an exercise in boredom, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. Your muscles contain millions of functional units called sarcomeres. Within each sarcomere are intertwining filaments that pull apart when stretched. In theory, each sarcomere has the ability to expand about 50 to 67 percent of its length without tearing. “But that would mean everyone could do a split, and we know that’s not true,” says Michael J. Alter, author of Science of Flexibility. “Much of what’s stopping the sarcomeres from stretching that far is the connective tissue, especially the fascia that surrounds the muscle.”
So one of the goals of stretching is to increase the flexibility and elasticity of the fasciae, which will, in turn, increase your range of motion. The payoff: Your lunge for a forehand will be deeper, your golf swing more complete, your running stride longer (meaning fewer steps to get to the finish line). (more…)