There is hardly anything on which there are so many different opinions as on the subject of stretching. Some bob, others hold. Some stretch before, others after training. Yogis swear to stretch, bend and twist in all directions. And still others think they can do without stretching altogether – yes, that stretching actually reduces performance. So far, so confusing.
At least in runner groups there seems to be a silent consensus: When they are not running, they stand on one leg in a circle and stretch the thighs of the other, bent leg. “Stretching is one of the things that many people do when they are jogging, without really knowing why,” says yoga teacher Hie Kim. In this article, he will help us to bring more clarity into the mystery of a good stretching routine and expose the most common mistakes.
The best running tips in autumn When jogging, stretching is one of those things that many people do just like that, without really knowing why. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
What does stretching mean and why is it so important?
Stretching is about improving the flexibility of the muscles. The definition of mobility is quite stretchable. Some people can easily bend forward with a straight back and grab their own toes, others think they feel a stretching pain just by watching. This is mainly due to the fact that we have different physical conditions. The good news: mobility can be trained.
The only question is why you should spend time on it when you could be working on your strength, endurance or the right technique for your favorite sport instead. The answer is simple: “Coordination and biomechanics,” says yoga teacher Kim.
“By stretching regularly, you train your body, among other things, to break down inhibitory reflexes and thereby increase your movement amplitude.” Studies also show that regular stretching improves athletic performance, minimizes the risk of injury and promotes mindfulness during exercise.
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What exactly happens during stretching?
“I’m not that agile” – a popular excuse when you have difficulty doing a stretching exercise properly. But that’s really just one more reason to stretch regularly. How flexible a joint is is determined by the shape of the bones. This is why the shoulder joint, for example, is much more flexible than the hip joint.
Each joint is surrounded by ligaments and muscles that are designed to stabilize the joint in motion. If a muscle (agonist) is tensed, the opponent (antagonist) performs a counter movement (stretching). Shortened muscles restrict this mobility, relaxed muscles increase it. During stretching or yoga, the origin and base of the muscles are pulled apart, thus increasing the range of movement. The limiting factor is therefore usually the stiff muscles, not the joint.
Whoever feels a pull on the joint during stretching risks overstretching the ligaments, which would destabilize the joint.
“Unfortunately, evolution has equipped our bodies with receptors that can make the stretching experience uncomfortable: Golgi tendon organs and muscle spindles,” says yoga instructor Kim. These send a signal to the spinal cord when we stretch a lot to protect us from injuries caused by overstretching and trigger the so-called stretching reflex when sudden effects occur.
“When stretching, it is therefore important to hold the positions a little longer, even though this can be strenuous,” the expert explains. If you hold a stretch for at least 45 seconds, the muscle spindle sends fewer and fewer signals and the muscle relaxes.
In the long run, this effort will pay off, because the more often you make your muscles really long, the less they inhibit their muscular counterpart in tension.
“I’m not that limber.” Do you know that line of yours? All the more reason to stretch regularly. © fizkes / Shutterstock.com
Advantages of a good stretching routine
At rest many muscle cells overlap. When stretching, the overlaps decrease and the muscle fibres become longer. By stretching regularly, your body learns step by step to use the full range of motion. The result is smoother movements and an economical, more efficient training.
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In addition, the loosening of muscles also has a mental component. As you slowly stretch through your stretching routine, you feel more inside your body and develop a better body awareness over time. This turns a strenuous workout into a mindful work-in.
The 3 most common stretching errors
1. stretching with incorrect alignment
Any kind of movement involves a certain amount of risk. And as with any other movement, the risk can be minimized by correct execution. The rules of stretching are simple: if it hurts, you have gone too far. A slight “feel-good” pain is the limit. Wrong ambition can end up with overstretched ligaments or dislocated joints if it is incorrectly aligned. Be careful not to stretch a muscle beyond its natural range.
2. stretching at the wrong time
One of the biggest stretching errors is not how it is stretched, but when. Extensive static stretching before a training session can have a negative effect on your performance, because: “The short-term effect of static stretching is reduced muscle tone. The stretched muscles cannot be tensed as quickly and powerfully. For warming up before training, dynamic stretching is therefore recommended (see below).
That’s why the right warm-up is so important
3. the wrong stretching exercise
Stretching is not the same as stretching. Some exercises are suitable for gently loosening and warming up the muscles, others do them slowly and very long. To maximize the benefits of stretching, it is crucial to choose the right type of stretch at the right time.
Static or dynamic? The correct stretching method is crucial. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
What is static stretching?
Static stretching is what most people think about when they think about stretching. This is what happens in the yin yoga class when you hold a position for minutes, breathe deeply into the stretch and make the muscles really long. These stretches are very relaxing and reduce muscle tension. Therefore, they should not be done before the workout, but afterwards or as a separate flexibility unit.
What is dynamic stretching?
While static stretching relaxes the muscles, dynamic stretching brings them into working mode. Dynamic stretching in a sweeping movement like jumping, bouncing and rocking is the ideal warm-up before training. The focus is more on mobilizing the entire body and less on a single muscle.
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Other elongation methods
But don’t get the idea of combining both methods, i.e. bouncing in a static stretch. This method from the 1980s has long since proved ineffective. A more sensible variant of static stretching is the so-called “assisted stretching” or “active static stretching”. This involves tensing the muscle that is actually to be stretched. This stimulates the Golgi tendon organ and the muscle receives a signal from the spinal cord to relax. The muscle slackens and the stretch is deepened.
You should do these stretching exercises regularly
Dynamic Stretches: These exercises prepare you for the training
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1. Leg swinging loosens hips and thighs
Standing on one leg, the other leg dynamically swings back and forth. Stay excited in the upper body and swing the arms in opposite directions. After 10 repetitions change the leg.
2. cat-cow warms up back and neck
Come to the quadruped stand. Arms straight, shoulders just above the wrists, knees below the hips. Inhaling, tilt your pelvis forward, lower your stomach towards the floor and pull your shoulders back. Exhaling they become round in the back, pressing hands and knees into the floor and bring the chin towards the chest. Continue the movement fluently with the breathing.
3. lateral untwisting mobilises back and chest
In the four-footed position bend left arm and bring fingers to left ear. Now turn the upper body to the left side, the left elbow points to the ceiling. Return to the starting position. After about 10 repetitions change to the other side.
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Static stretching for length: In these postures you can stay longer and stretch your muscles slowly
1. deep forward bend stretches the back of the thigh
Standing upright, raise your arms stretched out above your head. As you exhale, slowly bend your upper body forward and down. Let your head, shoulders and neck hang. If you can, grab his feet.
2. low lung stretches the hip flexors
In the dog looking down, step forward with your right leg and place your foot on the outside next to your right hand. Place your left knee on the ground and straighten your upper body. Raise your arms stretched above your head and slowly let yourself sink into the stretch in the hip. If you want more, bend your upper body forward and lay your forearms on the floor.
The threaded position neutralizes the spine and relieves pain in the lower back. © fizkes / Shutterstock.com
3. threading through stretches shoulders and flanks and relaxes the back
Standing on your four feet, dive with your right hand under your upper body to the left side until you can gently place your left shoulder and temple on the ground. Now the left hand moves forward on the fingertips until the arm is fully extended. Hold the pelvis vertically above the knees.
Conclusion: The biggest mistake you can make when stretching is to completely neglect stretching. If you use the right kind of stretching at the right time in a targeted manner, you will improve your training performance in the short term and remain more flexible in the long term.