Naturally Rockford: Ask Stephie: Stretching: Benefits and guidelines

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We have all stretched our bodies at some point in our lives. Maybe after getting out of bed in the morning, before starting your day or maybe stretching a few tight muscles after an afternoon of golf. Whatever your scenario, I can assume it was to help your body feel better in some way.

What some of you may not be familiar with is that when stretching is done correctly, and coupled with a proper warm-up, the benefits can be spectacular. Let us first discover some of the wonderful benefits stretching has to offer. When done correctly, stretching, also known as flexibility training, can accomplish the following:

Improve sports performance and decrease the risk of injury. A flexible joint has the ability to move through a greater range of motion and requires less energy to do so, while greatly decreasing your risk of injury. Most professionals agree stretching decreases resistance in tissue structures; you are, therefore, less likely to become injured by exceeding tissue extensibility (maximum range of tissues) during activity.

Reduce muscle soreness and improve posture. Recent studies show slow, static stretching helps reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Static stretching involves a slow, gradual and controlled elongation of the muscle through the full range of motion and held for at least 30 seconds in the furthest comfortable position (without pain). Stretching also improves muscular balance and posture. Many people’s soft-tissue structures have adapted poorly to either the effects of gravity or poor postural habits. Stretching can help realign soft tissue structures, thus reducing the effort it takes to achieve and maintain good posture in the activities of daily living.

Reduce the risk of back pain. Stretching promotes muscular relaxation. A muscle in constant contraction requires more energy to accomplish activities. Flexibility in the legs, hips and other muscles attached to the pelvis reduces stress to the low back. Stretching causes muscular relaxation, which encourages healthy nutrition directly to muscles; the resulting reduction in accumulated toxins reduces the potential for muscle shortening or tightening and, thus, reduces fatigue.

Improve muscle coordination. Studies show nerve-impulse velocity (the time it takes an impulse to travel to the brain and back) is improved with stretching. This helps opposing muscle groups work in a more synergistic, coordinated fashion.

Enhance enjoyment of physical activities. Stretching helps relax both the mind and body and brings a heightened sense of well-being and personal gratification during exercise.

Before beginning a stretching routine, it is important to first actually “warm up” the body. A warm muscle will respond to stretching much better than a cold muscle. Your warm-up could be active, such as doing 3-5 minutes of easy walking or biking, or your warm-up could be passive, such as taking a warm bath or sitting in a steam shower or sauna. Whatever you choose, the same goal will be accomplished.

Following are a handful of stretching tips for safely improving flexibility and minimizing pain:

1. Stretch only to the point of tension and do NOT bounce. Ease into the stretch and keep it comfortable. It’s OK to feel tension, but not pain.

2. Breathe slowly and easily while holding the stretch. This will help you and your muscles to relax, and will also deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.

3. Stretch before AND after exercise. Stretching before exercise prepares the body for activity and helps prevent injury. Stretching after exercise aids in the repair and recovery of the muscles and may prevent soreness.

4. Stretch all major muscles and their opposing muscle groups. Every muscle in the body has an opposing muscle that acts against it. If one of these groups of muscles becomes stronger or more flexible than the opposing group, it is likely to lead to imbalances that can result in injury or postural problems.

5. Be aware of your form/posture while stretching. If your posture is sloppy or incorrect, your stretching may put more emphasis on one particular muscle in that muscle group, thus causing an imbalance that could lead to injury.

As you can see, flexibility training is one of the key components of a balanced fitness program and can be done by anyone. Without flexibility training, you are missing an important part of overall health. Flexibility training provides many important benefits that cannot be achieved by any other exercise or activity. I hope you enjoy all the wonderful benefits of an effective flexibility training program.

Stephie Steele is owner of Symmetry Fitness, LLC. She has been featured in IDEA Health & Fitness Source magazine and specializes in weight loss, sports performance, total body fitness, posture alignment therapy, strength training, core conditioning, cardiovascular and flexibility training. Visit her Web site at or e-mail her with questions at

From the Feb. 21-27, 2007, issue

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