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Business News/ Opinion / The science behind stretching

The science behind stretching

Why it is important to relax your muscles after a workout and how stretching plays an important role in it

Hip-flexor stretchPremium
Hip-flexor stretch

Most common gym or recreational sport injuries happen due to faulty bio-mechanics. The problem arises due to overcompensated stiff muscles, injured or painful tissues that cause significant restriction in the motion of the joints. I have seen many people train for hours and just walk out of the gym, without giving a thought to stretching the muscles they just worked. I have seen people clock in a 10km run and just walk away right after. When we exercise—be it running, weight-training, or playing a sport—our muscles shorten or contract with repetitive movement. Over a period of time, these shortened muscles tend to cause faulty joint mechanics or cause flare-ups in surrounding areas by the way of muscle spasms or restricted movements.

Imagine the life of a long-distance runner—the repetition in his movement comes from his joints performing the same action for many kilometres. As he keeps running, his calves, hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps tend to get tight and eventually these tightened muscles start compensating the runner’s natural glide with an altered gait. This in turn over-stresses the joints by limiting their optimum range of motion, ultimately causing either knee, hip or ankle pain.

In the same way, people who spend hours on the computer end up with tight chest muscles, which pull the shoulders and head forward, leaving them with rounded shoulders and a hunched look.

The human body is adaptive. It will learn to become comfortable in repetitive faulty mechanics leading to chronic injuries. I believe that one should not bother to train or perform extensive workouts, if you are not going to take the time to stretch. Even for people who spend too much time on the computer, stretching is important. It assists in correcting the posture by lengthening the tight muscles that pull areas of the body away from their intended position.

Quadriceps stretch
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Quadriceps stretch

Quadriceps stretch

Whether you are cycling, running, doing aerobics, using machines to exercise your lower body or doing squats, your quadriceps are involved. When these muscles become tight, you run a greater risk of injury to your knees and the lower back.

Method: Stand with your feet together; hold on to something for balance. Grab your right ankle, and bend your knee with your heel touching your butt. Repeat with the other leg.

Piriformis stretch

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Piriformis stretch

Method: Lie on the floor on your back. Raise your legs and cross one leg over the other above the knees. Both legs should be bent. Gently pull the right knee up towards the shoulder on the same side of the body until the stretch is felt. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat with the left leg. Aim to complete a set of three stretches.

Hip-flexor stretch

The hip flexors are a group of muscles, including both muscles of the hips and upper thighs. Hip flexors move your knees into your chest and also move your legs from front to back and side to side. Because many people spend the majority of their work day sitting, the hip flexors can become tight and prone to injury. Runners and cyclist should pay special attention to stretching this muscle group. Tight hip flexors put the back out of alignment. Tightness in this area also often goes hand in hand with anterior pelvic tilt, that is where your butt sticks out (more than it should) and, if there’s too much tilt, then this is not good for your posture and can contribute to back pain.

Method: Kneel down. Place your left foot forward with the hands on your waist or thighs. Tighten your glutes as you lean forward, putting your weight on the left foot. Make sure to keep your back straight. You should feel the stretch. Repeat with the right leg.

Abdominal stretch

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Abdominal stretch

Method: Lie on your stomach with your hands underneath the shoulders. Then push your head and shoulders gently up with the help of your arms. The pelvis should be kept to the ground. The stretch is felt in the front of the stomach.

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What you should know about stretching

u Assess your flexibility to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.

u Make sure your muscles are appropriately warmed up before you stretch.

u Do stretches at least two-three times every week, and ideally every day of the week.

u Stretch all major muscle groups as well as opposing muscle groups.

u Focus on the muscles involved in the stretch, minimizing the movement of other body parts.

u Hold stretches for 15–30 seconds. Stretch to the limit of movement, not the point of pain. The limit of movement is referred to as the “endpoint" of the stretch.

u Keep your breathing slow and rhythmic while holding stretches. Exhale slowly as you extend to the endpoint of the stretch.

u If the stretch causes pain, back off and find out whether your stretching technique is correct. It may be necessary to try another position or a different stretching exercise.

Sumaya Dalmia is a wellness consultant, fitness expert and owner of Sumaya, a personal training studio in New Delhi.

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Published: 18 Nov 2013, 07:27 PM IST
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