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STRETCHING AND FLEXIBILITY
by Tony J. Wilden - www.aikido-health.com
Some of the most common mistakes made when stretching are... improper warm-up, inadequate rest between workouts, overstretching, performing the wrong exercises, and exercising in the wrong order.
Warming up is the process of raising your core body temperature. A proper warm-up is divided into three phases - general warm-up, stretching, and sport-specific activity.
Your general warm-up should begin with at least five minutes of aerobic activity, such as jogging. This raises your core body temperature and gets your blood flowing. Increased blood flow in the muscles improves muscle performance and flexibility and reduces the likelihood of injury.
Follow this with joint-rotations, starting either from your toes and working your way up, or from your fingers and working your way down. This helps joint motion by lubricating the entire joint with synovial fluid, which allows your joints to function better.
You should perform slow circular movements, both clockwise and counter-clockwise, until the joint seems to move smoothly. You should rotate the following - fingers and knuckles, wrists, elbows, shoulders, trunk/waist, hips, legs, knees, ankles, toes.
Do not rotate your neck, as it can cause wear to vertebrae. Instead stretch up-down, side-to-side, ear-to-shoulder.
Immediately following your general warm-up, you should do some slow, relaxed, static stretching. Start with your back, followed by your upper body and lower body, stretching your muscles in the following order... back, sides, neck, forearms and wrists, triceps, chest, buttocks, groin, thighs, calves, shins, hamstrings, instep.
Then do some some light dynamic stretching... leg-raises, and arm swings in all directions. You are "warming up" for a workout that is likely to involve a lot of dynamic activity. It makes sense to perform some dynamic exercises to increase your dynamic flexibility.
The last part of your warm-up should be devoted to performing movements that are a more relaxed version of the movements that you will be performing during your athletic activity.
This is beneficial because it improves your coordination, balance, strength, and response time, and may reduce the risk of injury.
After you have completed your workout, the best way to reduce muscle fatigue and soreness is to perform a light warm-down. This warm-down is similar to the second half of your warm-up (but in the reverse order).
Ideally, you should start your warm-down with about 10-20 minutes of sport-specific activity. In reality however, you may not have this amount of time to spare at the end of your workout.
You should always attempt to perform at least 5 minutes of sport-specific activity. This should immediately be followed by stretching: First perform some light dynamic stretches until your heart rate slows down to its normal rate, then perform some static stretches.
This type of cool down can reduce cramping, tightening, and soreness in fatigued muscles and will make you feel better. If you are still sore the next day, a light warm-up or warm-down is a good way to reduce it.
Massaging a muscle, or group of muscles, immediately prior to performing stretching or strength exercises for those muscles, will increased blood flow, relax muscles, and remove metabolic waste.
Because of these benefits, you may wish to make massage a regular part of your stretching program... immediately before each stretch you perform, massage the muscles you are about to stretch.
Duration, Counting, and Repetition
Many people disagree on how long to hold a passive stretch in its position. Various sources seem to suggest that they should be held for as little as 10 seconds to as long as a 1-7 minutes.
A good common ground seems to be about 30 seconds. Holding the stretch for about 7-10 seconds should be sufficient for children. Some people like to count while they stretch.
Breathing During Stretching
Proper breath control is important for a successful stretch. Breathing helps you relax your body, increase blood flow, and remove waste.
You should be taking slow, relaxed breaths when you stretch, trying to exhale as the muscle is stretching.
The proper way to breathe is to inhale slowly through your nose, expand your abdomen, then hold the breath a moment, and exhale slowly through your nose or mouth.
As you breathe in, your diaphragm presses downward on your internal organs and their associated blood vessels, squeezing the blood out of them. As you exhale, your abdomen, organs and muscles, and blood vessels flood with new blood.
This rhythmic contraction and expansion of the abdominal blood vessels is partially responsible for the circulation of blood.
Also, the rhythmic pumping action helps to remove waste products from the muscles in the torso. This is important during stretching because increased blood flow to the stretched muscles improves their elasticity, and increases the rate at which lactic acid is removed from them.
I hope you found this article of benefit.
Aikido Health Centre
Tony Wilden is the author of the Aikido Success Blueprint, the Aikido First Aid Kit, and the Optimum Health Secrets. You can sign up for his free monthly Harmony ezine at http://www.aikido-health.com
Copyright © by Tony Wilden. All rights reserved.
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You are welcome to use and forward this Health article, as long as it is entirely complete, to anyone, and in any way you wish :)