Stretching is a very misunderstood activity and if it is done at all it is performed very poorly – mainly as an after thought. The benefits of stretching are varied and include prevention of injury, reduction of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and lymph return. Stretching can also help your posture which will generally reduce and back or neck pain that you#re experiencing.
There are different types of stretches and they all have their benefits. If you want to stretch in preparation for exercise or sport then dynamic or ballistic stretching is best. This is where you move in and out of stretched positions in a controlled manner in order to prepare the connective tissue (muscles and ligaments) for the activity ahead. Whilst it must always be controlled ballistic stretching can be quite vigorous and used as part of a larger warm up phase. You will see professional sports players perfoming these drills on the side of the pitch when they prepare to come on. What you don’t see is the 30-40 minutes all of the team spend doing these drills ahead of the game!
Static stretching is a slower form of stretching, that is often included in a cool down or post exercise section. This is where the muscles are taken to their maximal stretched position and held for periods of time from 15-60 seconds. The aim here is to restore the muscle length to its former range and reduce muscle soreness post exercise. This type of stretching can also be done separate from an exercise session in order to improve general flexibility and range of motion. For example, gymnasts and martial artists, may perform 30-40 minutes of static stretching every day of the week in order to keep themselves supple enough to perform well in their sports.
Aside from sports, static stretching can also be used to help improve your posture and relieve back and neck pain. As a society we spend most of our day seated at a desk or in front of a screen of some sort. This leads to a forward head posture with very rounded shoulders. Not only does this not look particularly attractive it can be one of the main contributors of both low back pain and neck pain. By merely stretching the muscles that become shortened and tightened in this position, namely your pecs and sternocleidomastoid (neck) muscles, you’ll help reverse the poor posture and relieve any aches and pains that result from it.
As you have seen from this short post, stretching is very important for a number of reasons. I recommend you invest the time in finding a strech routine that is beneficial to you and adhere to a set number of stretch sessions per week.