It was once believed that stretching before a workout was just as vital as eating breakfast before the start of a big day. If you wanted to minimize your risk of the possible tearing of muscles, injury to joints, or running without pain, then stretching was a must pre-exercise component to one’s exercise regimen. But why do we have to think about stretching in the sense of injury awareness? Does stretching before exercising decrease the likelihood of injury? What was once thought to be the ideal precursor to our regular workouts has revealed conflicting results.
Current research has exposed injury-prevention stretching as a misconception and is, at best, inconclusive regarding preventing injuries. It is not as if stretching is deemed ineffective within the physical therapy community. Instead, what is vital to physical therapy is how stretching applies and translates to the activity that will shortly follow. In essence, one should warm up as an adjunct to stretching to perform a functional exercise. For example, if you want to increase your quadriceps and gluteus maximus strength by performing squats, it would be best to utilize light sets before adding heavier weights.
Warm-up routine in adjunction to stretching
- External Heat: Heat pack, gel pack, sauna, etc.
- Self-Traction: Arm hangs, pendulums, etc.
- General or Specific warm-ups
- Jumping jacks, cycling, brief walk (General)
- Light sets of activity before adding heavier weights (Specific)
- Relaxation training
This is a simple method to help reduce and relieve pain, decrease muscle tension, and minimize anxiety and stress. The definition of relaxation training is “a reduction in muscle tension in the entire body or the region that is painful or restricted by conscious effort and thought.”
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Three types of relaxation training
- Autogenic training: Conscious relaxation through self-suggestion and advancement of exercises and meditation.
- Progressive relaxation: Using methodical, distal to proximal advancement of voluntary contraction/relaxation of muscles. The sequence for the technique can be as follows:
- Place self in a quiet area, in a comfortable position
- Breathe in a profound, relaxed manner
- Contract distal muscles in hands/feet for at least 5-10 seconds, followed by consciously relaxing those muscles for 20-30 seconds
- Get a sense of reduced heaviness in one’s hands/feet, with a sense of warmth in the muscle that just relaxed.
- Realize a sense of relaxation and warmth throughout your limb and then throughout your body
- Awareness through movement: Combination of sensory awareness, movements of the extremities and trunk, deep breathing, conscious relaxation procedures, and self-massage to change postural abnormalities and imbalances in muscles to reduce muscle tension and pain.
If one is truly relaxed, the following indicators may be present:
- Decreased muscle tension
- Lowered heart and respiratory rates, lowered blood pressure
- Increased skin temperature
- Pupil constriction
- Minimal to no body movement
- Flat facial expression and closed eyes
- Palms open with jaw and hands relaxed
- Decreased distractibility
When it comes to preventing injuries, there are numerous factors to take into consideration:
- Warming up properly
- Good technique and postural mechanics
- Duration, frequency, and intensity of the stretch.
The more prepared your body is, the less likely you will get injured. Stretching is not a magic bullet and may not make as big a difference as one would think in preventing injuries. But if it is going to have any benefit of risk prevention, then it has to be performed with other means of warming up.
If you have questions or would like a professional to evaluate your stretching and workout routine, visit us at your nearest Foothills location.