Benefits of stretching
Stretching can be observed everywhere, starting with the animal kingdom, where after a resting period or sleep the beast stretches and even yawns in preparation to become animate again, down to the humans, who consider stretching to be an intricate part of any exercise routine.
The principals of stretching can be found in centuries old physical exercise principles that have also some religious undertones, like Yoga and Tai Chi. While postures and movements of these teachings have not only physical benefits but also are supposed to benefit the mind as well, an essential part of the exercises and postures involves stretching of the skeletal musculature. Health benefits of such exercises are undisputed and just help heat up the controversy that is raging in regards to the benefits of stretching, primarily in connection with professional athletes and the related physical performance benefits.
1. Stretching improves the range of motion
Deemed one of the main benefits of stretching, the potential improvement of the motion range is particularly popular with athletes who really require such a capability, like any sportspeople whose activity includes running. Soccer players, football players, track and field athletes, even martial arts performers can often be seen engaged stretching exercises, particularly before the beginning of a match or competition. While with continuous stretching exercises the distance between flexed and extended positions of muscles and joints can be significantly improved, the extent of the benefits is purely individual.
2. Stretching reduces or even removes the incidence and onset of muscle soreness
Tests were conducted with amateurs and professional athletes alike, where results prove the reduction or even removal of incidences of muscle soreness after athletic competitions, if athletes were subjected to stretching exercises before and after the competition.
3. Stretching increases flexibility
Flexibility is paramount with such exercises that are related to Yoga or any Martial Arts disciplines. While with stretching some flexibility may be gained, the extent of such improvement is hereditary and cannot be overcome.
4. Stretching helps increase athletic performance
Many studies have been conducted with stretching as focal point and there seems to be overwhelming evidence supporting the fact that benefits of stretching include a significant improvement in athletic performance, particularly for certain athletes whose sport requires short bursts of high energy. While amateurs may not notice any improvement, sprinters, for instance, may experience performance enhancements of several fractions of a second, which in such cases may be the difference between winning and ending up last.
5. Stretching may reduce the incidence of injuries in athletes.
While this finding is being disputed, because not all sports or bodily exertions benefit from stretching exercises, particularly sports physiotherapists and team doctors have established the popular belief that proper stretching exercises reduce the risk of injury.
While almost all professional athletes and many amateurs will always stretch before and after any exercise or competition, the scientific community is still undecided how far the benefits of stretching actually reach. Concerns that overstretching may lead to injury, even damage the nerves do exist, some researchers even state that stretching may induce ischemia. Other findings find proof that stretching improves the athletic performance and reduces many risks of injury.