Stretching exercises should be an integral part of your health fitness training program. Stretching improves the agility of your muscles, making them more flexible. Flexible muscles are more resistant to injuries than stiff ones. Stretching is crucial to enhance your strength and control over your mind and body. As a result, it is an extremely important element in all kinds of exercises, including cardio, resistance training and martial arts. Stretching exercises are recommended before your work out during the warm up phase, in between your workout and after your workout during the cool down phase. A fitness program should include the following four types of stretches to prevent injury:
1. Static Stretching
Static stretching is a form of stretching where a group of muscles assist in stretching the target muscle. It is performed by bending the body in a manner that creates tension in the large muscles. An example of this kind of stretching is forward bending to touch your finger tips to your toes, creating a tension in your hamstrings. Static stretches should be held 30 to 60 seconds with 2 repetitions at least. These drawn out stretches should be performed after a workout, while your muscles are warm.
2. Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)
AIS stretching incorporates a mechanism called Reciprocal Inhibition, involving two opposing muscles. When one muscle is stretched, the opposing muscle is contracted causing a relaxing effect on the stretched muscle. For example, if the goal is to stretch the left hamstring, the left quadriceps should be contracted for a few seconds, causing the left hamstring to relax due to reciprocal inhibition. This method can be applied to any opposing groups of muscles in your body. These stretches should last for 2 seconds with 10 repetitions.
3. Contract Relax Stretching
Contract Relax stretching induces a reflex relaxation of the muscle being stretched, where the opposing muscle is contracted against the resistance and the stretched muscle is relaxed. The resistance is by an external force preferably exerted by a partner or your trainer. This helps in achieving a deeper stretch. It is an extended active isolated stretch, where you hold the stretch for 20 counts and hold it against the resistance for 20.
4. Yoga or Static-Active stretching
This is a combination of all the above stretches, which lengthens muscles, increases strength and flexibility, and prevents injuries.
The important thing to remember is to do some form of stretching to keep your body strong, flexible and free from injury. Ask your doctor or a certified personal trainer which stretches are most beneficial for your activities.