Stretching seems to be a bit of a mystery to most people. Everyone has heard of it, perhaps even tried it, but few people seem to know why or when to stretch.

Stretching isn’t necessary for muscles to perform, but stretching is necessary for muscles to perform well. Our muscles, much like an automobile engine, perform better when they are warmed up. Muscles have a modest amount of fuel (“energy”) stored in them at rest so that they can perform immediately when called upon. But the body needs to rev up its “fuel delivery” system to keep the muscle functioning beyond a few seconds. The heart will need to beat faster, more muscle fibers will need to be activated,  junk that has accumulated since the muscle was last used will need to be removed….all part of the warm up process. As a muscle warms up, it is better able to handle stress. And stretching is stressful to a muscle.

Too much stress can injure a muscle. If a muscle is warmed up, it is less likely to suffer damage from any activity,  including stretching. But, is stretching even necessary?

For light activity, stretching isn’t necessary. Stretching is necessary though, if you plan to put the body through movements or positions beyond normal range. For example, because jogging and walking stress the body in similar movement ranges,  it isn’t necessary to stretch before jogging if you have been walking around for a while. But if you plan on running fast, stretching is necessary because the muscles will be moving through a much greater range than they have been “primed” for.

Unless muscles are stretched, they will resist movement beyond normal—-and normal is the range muscles are being used in at any given time. In order to run fast, the hip/knee/ankle joints need to move in a greater range than is needed for jogging. Stretching prepares a muscle (and joints) for increased range of movement, decreasing the risk of injury.

Stretching doesn’t need to be mysterious—just remember a few simple points:

  • warm up (sustained light activity for 10-15 minutes) before stretching
  • stretch before engaging in more vigorous than normal activities
  • stretching prepares a muscle for use over a greater range of movement
  • stretching decreases the risk of injury

Don’t risk injury – join our supervised fitness training for Santa Cruz and make sure your stretching is done right.  You’ll be overseen by our experienced, qualified and friendly staff.