Fitness experts suggest that along with regular aerobic exercise and strength training it’s important to include stretching exercises too. Combine all three types of exercise and you’re building a body that’s fitter, stronger and more supple — a healthy and useful body to have.
It improves your range of movement so that you can bend, stretch, reach and twist more easily. This is especially important for anyone with a sedentary job — sitting all day limits the range of movements we do. Stretching also helps to improve your balance, counteracts muscle tension and stiffness and may help to relieve stress.
To increase or maintain flexibility and reduce muscle tension, Sports Medicine Australia’s injury prevention program Smartplay suggests a 15–20 minute stretching session two to three times a week.
It’s important to warm up before you stretch — this delivers blood to your muscles and reduces the risk of injury. Smartplay suggests a two to three minute jog which raises a light sweat as a warm up before a stretching session.
Good opportunities to stretch include:
Sometimes you’ll see people making bouncing movements as they stretch. This is called ballistic stretching but many fitness experts suggest avoiding bouncing as it may cause injury. A better way is static stretching — this means you slowly stretch a muscle until you feel resistance, but not pain — remember that if you feel any pain, stop.
Tips for stretching from Smartplay include:
For a guide to stretching exercises you can do at home, see the Further Information section below.
Not necessarily. Although stretching before and after a workout is often recommended to prevent injury, new Australian research suggests that it doesn’t significantly reduce injury. However, Smartplay suggest you should still include stretching as part of your cool down after exercise. A five to 10 minute stretching session emphasising the major groups of muscles you have just used can help your body get rid of muscle waste products and help reduce soreness and stiffness.
These are all good moves for flexibility — and have other advantages too.
This is a system of exercise originally developed in the 1920s to rehabilitate people with injuries. It uses slow, controlled exercises done either on a mat or on special Pilates equipment to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility, posture and balance, especially through the core of your body.
Pilates also helps strengthen the important ‘corset’ muscle (transverses abdominis muscle) that swaddles your body between your ribs and your hips. Keeping this muscle strong also helps protect your lower back and improves posture.
Although yoga originally evolved as a spiritual practice, it’s also used as a way to improve flexibility. Like Pilates, yoga helps strengthen your core abdominal muscles – the transversus abdominis muscle – that helps supports the spine and lower back. Yoga involves a number of different postures called asanas. Moving into and holding these postures also helps develop muscle strength. As with Pilates, these movements help counteract the inflexibility and muscular weakness of hours spent sitting at a keyboard or behind a steering wheel. Yoga may also help reduce stress.
There are many types of yoga including:
Because there are so many different yoga styles, it’s often best to shop around and give each a try to find the one that suits you best.
Originally developed in China as a martial art, tai chi has evolved into a gentle form of exercise which suits people of all ages. It involves doing a series of slow graceful movements. Because each movement flows into the next, the body is constantly moving — but at a gentle pace. Tai chi appears to improve flexibility, balance and strength, especially in older adults.
University of California Berkeley Foundations of Wellness. The Home Stretch. www.wellnessletter.com/html/fw/fwFit02Stretching.html
Harvard Health Letter. Good for the mind, but how about the body? [online] Boston, MA: Harvard University. c2000-2010 [accessed 23 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Health_Letter/2008/September/Good_for_the_mind_but_how_about_the_body
Jamtvedt G Herbert RD Flottorp S et al. A pragmatic randomised trial of stretching before and after physical activity to prevent injury and soreness. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2009; doi:10.1136/bjsm.2009.062232
Mayo Clinic. Tai Chi: discover the many possible health benefits. [online] Mayo Foundation for Medical Research and Education. c1998-2010 [last updated 8 July 2010, accessed 23 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tai-chi/SA00087
National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Tai Chi: An introduction. [online] Bethseda, Maryland: National Institutes of Health. 2006 [last updated Apr 2009, accessed 23 Aug 2010] Available from:http://nccam.nih.gov/health/taichi/
Olson MS Williford HN Martin RS et al. The energy cost of a basic, intermediate, and advanced pilates’ mat workout. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2004; 36(5): S357.
Smartplay. Fact sheet: Warm Up / Stretching. [online] Kidman Park, SA: Sports Medicine Australia (SA Branch). [accessed 23 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.smasa.asn.au/smartplay/moves/peak_perform/warmup/warmupfacts.html
Taylor-Piliae RE Haskell WL Stotts NA et al. Improvement in balance, strength, and flexibility after 12 weeks of Tai chi exercise in ethnic Chinese adults with cardiovascular disease risk factors. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 2006; 12(2): 50–58.
University of California Berkeley Foundations of Wellness. The Home Stretch. [online] Palm Coast, FL: Remedy Health Media. c2010 [accessed 23 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.wellnessletter.com/html/fw/fwFit02Stretching.htmlTop of page
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Last published 31 October 2010