It’s all too common for those engaging in sport to find that they gain an injury simply because they have taken to the track, pitch, pool etc. without going through the necessary stretches beforehand. Often this is down to the sheer willingness to get on with their sport, but enthusiasm should not make amends for failing to perform a full round of variable stretches before a session.
It should be stressed that stretching must always follow a light warm up in order to be effective. The warm up can be anything that places little strain on the body, and tends to vary according to the sport (jogging, bicycling are two examples of many).
The warm up does exactly as it suggests, in that it raises the inner core temperature and makes the body ready for exercise.
Stretching comes in once this has been managed because the tendons and muscles that are to be exercised have been made more supple and flexible, but are likely to still be too fragile to be entirely efficient or reliable when exercising. Physiologically speaking this is because the combination of warm up and stretching significantly enhances the circulation of blood around the body.
Just as important as conducting a stretching session before exercise is to also do one following the end of the session. This should be done carefully and when the body is still warm and flexible, but can help to significantly reduce muscle tightness that may develop soon after a vigorous workout.
In terms of overall performance there’s no question that stretching helps an athlete perform to a higher standard, and increases the overall sense of motion that is essential in all sports. This is unanimous across the board of ages and irrespective of gender, but is especially important for older participants and those who have had muscle or tendon issues before.
One overlooked feature of stretching is that it adds competitiveness to the psyche of warming up and preparing for the forthcoming competition. In a sense it is a necessary ritual that can help someone mentally focus upon the targets and ambitions that they are looking to achieve. This is especially common in sprinters who refer to it as getting ‘in the zone’, which is far from just a propulsion of ego – stretching releases plenty of endorphins that stimulate, focus and mellow the mind.