Stretching - why should I?
Brad Walker explains why it is crucial that stretching becomes part of your training programme
Overcoming and preventing sports injury
If you are involved in the health & fitness industry, whether it be participating in your favourite sport, coaching, training or just keeping fit, you will know how annoying and debilitating a sports injury can be. In reality, when you have a sports injury you are losing on two fronts. Firstly, you are losing because your body has been hurt and now needs time and care to repair itself. And on top of this, you are also losing the time you could have been putting into training and improving your sporting ability.
The cold, hard facts
I recently read an article titled "Managing Sports Injuries" where the author estimated that over 27,000 American's sprain their ankle every day, yes every day. On top of this, Sports Medicine Australia estimates that 1 in every 17 participants of sport and exercises are injured playing their favourite sport. This figure is even higher for contact sports like Football and Gridiron. However, the truly disturbing fact is that up to 50% of these injuries may have been prevented.
The professional's secret weapon
While several basic preventative measures will assist in the prevention of sports injury, there is one technique that has slowly been gaining in popularity. It is still not used as often as it should be by the average sports participant, but with the professionals using it more and more, it is only a matter of time before it starts to catch on. Before we dive into this little used technique for minimizing your likelihood of sports injury, let us take a quick look at some other techniques to help you prevent sports injury
So, where do you start?
Most people are coming to understand both the importance and the benefits of a good warm-up. A correct warm-up will help to raise body temperature, increase blood flow and promote oxygen supply to the muscles. It will also help to prepare the mind, body, muscles and joints for the physical activity to come. While warming-up is important, a good cool-down also plays a vital role in helping to prevent sports injury. How? A good cool-down will prevent blood from pooling in your limbs. It will also prevent waste products, such as lactic acid, building up in your muscles. Not only that, a good cool-down will help your muscles and tendons to relax and loosen, stopping them from becoming stiff and tight. While preventative measures such as warming-up and cooling-down play a vital role in minimizing the likelihood of sports injury, other techniques such as obeying the rules, using protective equipment and plain common sense are all useful.
The one technique to cut your chance of injury by more than half
So, what is this magic technique? Why is it such a secret? And how come you have not heard of it before? Well chances are you have, and also, it is not that secret, and it is not magic. You have used this technique yourself at some point or at least observed others using it. But the real question is, how dedicated have you been to make this technique a consistent part of your athletic preparation? What is it? It is stretching. The simple technique of stretching can play an imperative role in helping you to prevent the occurrence of sports injury. Unfortunately, stretching is one area of athletic preparation often neglected. Do not underestimate its benefits. Do not make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching will not be effective. Stretching is a vital part of any exercise program and should be looked upon as being as important as any other part of your health and fitness.
In recent time the professionals have been getting more and more serious about stretching and their flexibility. The coaches and trainers are just starting to realize how important flexible muscles are to help prevent sports injury. Flexibility has often been neglected in the overall conditioning of modern athletes. It's only now that its benefits are proving invaluable to all those serious about staying injury-free.
How does stretching prevent injury?
One of the greatest benefits of stretching is that you can increase the length of both your muscles and tendons. This leads to an increased range of movement, which means your limbs and joints can move further before an injury occurs. Let us take a look at a few examples. If the muscles in your neck are tight and stiff this limits your ability to look behind or turn your head around. If for some reason your head is turned backwards, past its normal range of movement, in a football scrum or tackle, for example, this could result in a muscle tear or strain. You can help to prevent this from happening by increasing the flexibility, and the range of movement, of the muscles and tendons in your neck. What about the muscles in the back of your legs? These muscles, the hamstrings, are put under a huge strain when doing any sort of sport that involves running and especially for sports that require kicking. Short, tight hamstring muscles can spell disaster for many sportspeople. By ensuring these muscles are loose and flexible, you will cut your chance of a hamstring injury dramatically.
How else can stretching help?
While injuries can occur at any time, they are more likely to occur if the muscles are fatigued, tight and depleted of energy. Fatigued, tight muscles are also less capable of performing the skills required for your particular sport or activity. Stretching can help to prevent an injury by promoting recovery and decreasing soreness. Stretching ensures that your muscles and tendons are in good working order. The more conditioned your muscles and tendons are, the better they can handle the rigours of sport and exercise and the less likely that they will become injured.
So, as you can see, there is more to stretching than most people think. Stretching is a simple and effective activity that will help you to enhance your athletic performance, decrease your likelihood of sports injury and minimise muscle soreness.
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About the Author
Brad Walker is a prominent Australian sports trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. Brad is a Health Science graduate of the University of New England and has postgraduate accreditations in athletics, swimming and triathlon coaching. He also works with elite level and world champion athletes and lectures for Sports Medicine Australia on injury prevention.