Among the methods applied in sports training, stretching has been used more and more lately. The word, English in origin, is used as such in many other languages, and it comes from the verb to stretch (meaning, in this sense, ‘to make your arms, legs, and body as straight as possible so that your muscles become long and tight’). More precisely, we talk about stretching the muscles, the joints, the tendons, the ligaments, etc.
Even before the term itself and the specific methods gained individuality, stretching was used a lot, especially in sports or activities which require excellent mobility of the joints and exceptional muscle suppleness (gymnastics, martial arts, ballet, etc.). The positions specific to hatha yoga were a source of inspiration for the different movements practiced in stretching, but these positions underwent many transformations, adaptations, and simplifications.
The most important effect of stretching is the suppleness of muscles and joints, enabling increased effectiveness during the training. However, there are different opinions about the exact time when stretching should be introduced in the training program.
Thus, some authors support the idea that stretching is indicated for both warming up and relaxation, and even for the central part of the training. But, on the other hand, there is the opinion that stretching must be done only in the relaxation phase because the movements specific to it induce a state of relaxation that you do not want at the beginning of the training. This state comes from maintaining the passive faze of the positions.
Everybody agrees that stretching needs to be anticipated by general warming up; this way, the practitioner will avoid tightening the muscles.
General warming up takes about 5 minutes, and it contains aerobic exercises. Stretching muscles that have not been warmed up might be dangerous for the integrity of the muscle fibers, which could rupture easily.
Both weight and resistance training should include stretching; the effectiveness will only increase once this type of movement is done during training.
Another reason for higher effectiveness is that a more significant number of motive units are involved in the movement, and they are mobilized faster once the volitional order is transmitted, through the motive impulse, to the muscles. Moreover, given the fact that the range of the movements is more extensive, the sportsman can cover more considerable distances, larger scopes, saving, at the same time, vital energy, especially in very demanding sports (athletics, canoeing, etc.).
You can have a full training only with stretching exercises. However, this is not advisable: the muscles will quickly get used to only relaxing without contracting, which can produce a certain misbalance.
Another possible adverse effect of exaggerated stretching movements (over the physiological limit) is laxity of the joints or even accidents like sprains, dislocations, tightening of ligaments or tendons, etc.). This is because the main joints (knee, shoulder, elbow, etc.) are protected by their mobility and the elasticity of the muscles surrounding them (periarticular).
In conclusion, stretching must be accompanied by other forms of training so that the sportsman will have a complete and secure fitness program.
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