When you are going to get active after a period of low physical activity you want to begin with some easy stretching, because you want to take it easy so you do not damage yourself.
Today we will talk about easy stretching in the Preparation Phase. There are four Phases of any exercise session, and each phase can have a number of stages:
- The Preparation Phase has a minimum of a warm-up stage and a joint mobility stage and may include a short, easy stretching stage.
- The Conditioning Phase may include any of the following stages – aerobic, strength, endurance, lactate tolerance, an aerobic threshold, balance, agility, skill, coordination and so on.
- The Recovery Phase is where you allow your body to make its immediate recovery from the distress and strain of the activities performed in the Conditioning Phase.
- The Adaptation Phase is where you rest from a particular activity to allow your body to make adaptations that will allow it to exercise with less stress and strain the next time you undertake exercise.
Easy stretching will come naturally to you if you don’t try to override your body’s normal reactions.
If you have a look at your daily activities you’ll see that you stretch all the time without realizing what you’re doing. If you’ve been sitting for a long time and you stand up, then you’ll probably stretch tall to get rid of muscle tension and joint kinks.
Easy stretching is not hard exercise where your aim is to expend the maximum amount of energy in the shortest possible time. It’s soft exercise, where the aim is to conserve energy and relax.
The aim of easy stretching is not to make you more flexible.
In the early stages of activity an increase in temperature in the core of the muscle is the best way of increasing the range of movement of a muscle and a joint. Low intensity rhythmical activity of the muscles to be used in the activity is the best way of warming up.
You may have noticed over the past few years that aerobics classes have moved away from stretching routines in the Preparation Phase of the class.
This is because a pause in activity at this stage of the exercise session to stretch will not increase range of movement, and may even decrease it if the body cools down too much.
In the weights gym you see people doing a general warm-up on an exercise bike, and then doing light weights for one set, then doing the set at a higher intensity. Then they stretch between sets to counteract the effect of repeated muscle contractions on the muscle fibre length.
A poor use of easy stretching often seen in the sporting arena where people warm up with a few shots, then stop and stretch for 10 minutes, and then get straight into the sport. What happens? Twang!! A muscle tear.
The aim of easy stretching in the Preparation Phase is to switch ON the neuromuscular pathways that stimulate a muscle to contract with an optimum amount of force.
This is the exact opposite to stretching for flexibility where you are trying to switch off the nervous responses causing a muscle to contract.
The general procedures for easy stretching are:
- Lightly warm up the muscles to be stretched.
- Think about the actions you’re going to be doing in your Conditioning Phase. For example, if you’re in an aerobics class, going for a run, beginning a walk, or about to play a sport, you’ll be doing a lot of pushing down on the floor with your foot, using the calf muscles.
- Perform the opposite action to stretch the muscles. So in our aerobics class, you’d pull the toes up away from the floor, or elevate the toes and push the heel down towards the floor.
- An easy stretch should extend the muscle until you feel the first inklings of stretch in the muscle, and no further.
- Hold the stretch until the stretched feeling disappears (between 4 and 10 seconds).
- Warm up the muscle again, and if the muscle still feels a little slow or unresponsive, give it another easy stretch.
You should spend no more than a couple of minutes on this easy stretching, or you’ll begin to get a cooling down of the core temperature of your muscles. If you want to easy stretch for longer, go through another warm up.
Easy stretching will prevent injuries and increase performance by ensuring that muscles will contract quickly and with optimum force. Use it wisely and sparingly in the Preparation Phase.