The 7th Inning Stretch is a common tradition at American baseball games where fans get the chance to get up and stretch out their arms and legs in the 7th inning before sitting down again to watch the rest of the game. Maybe fans were on to something when they began participating in this tradition many, many years ago.After long periods of sitting and inactivity, the muscles shorten causing tightness that can lead to pain and discomfort. Instead of ignoring the pain and tightness, it's important to give yourself a "7th Inning Stretch" in your day to stretch out those tight muscles and avoid possible muscle imbalances.
So what is flexibility anyway? Flexibility is defined as the normal extensibility of all soft tissues that allow the full range of motion of a joint (NASM, 2008). The use of flexibility training may decrease the chance of muscle imbalances, joint dysfunctions, and overuse injuries. Stretching isn't only important before and after exercise, it is also important to perform stretches daily to keep muscles loose and functioning. Stretching is more important than ever in today's society due to decreases in physical activity and prolonged sitting periods in the American population.
There are many benefits of stretching. These benefits include but are not limited to: improved range of motion, increased power, reduced post exercise muscle soreness and reduced fatigue. Some added benefits to stretching include: improved posture, improved coordination, promotes circulation, increases energy and improves relaxation and stress relief (Walker, 2007).
• Warm-up prior to stretching. If preparing for exercise, do some light physical activity for about 10 minutes. You should work up a light sweat. If stretching in the middle of the day, march or jog in place for about 5 minutes to get the blood flowing and loosen up a little bit, then proceed to stretching. Stretching a cold muscle is like stretching a cold rubber band; warming up will increase muscular pliability and improve the effectiveness of your stretches.
• Stretch all major muscle groups and their opposing muscle groups. All muscles are important in physical activity. Just because a certain muscle group is used in a particular activity does not mean that the rest should be ignored. Stretching all major muscle groups is important in order to avoid imbalances. • Stretch gently and slowly. This will make stretching more pleasurable and beneficial since hard jerky movements can cause injuries and further discomfort.
• Stretch only to the point of tension. "When the muscles are stretched to the point of pain, the body employs a defense mechanism called the stretch reflex. This is the body's safety measure to prevent serious damage occurring to the muscles, tendons and joints," (Walker, 2007). Therefore, if the muscle is stretched to the point of pain, the protective mechanism prevents the stretch from occurring. In order to avoid the stretch reflex from happening, avoid pain and only stretch to the point of tension.
• Breathe slowly and easily while stretching. Holding your breath while stretching decreases oxygen delivery to the muscles, causing tension in the muscles making it difficult to get a good stretch. To evade this, breathe deeply and slowly while stretching to promote blood flow and delivery of oxygen to the muscles.
• Stretch with proper form to avoid causing imbalances in the muscles that can lead to injury. A major muscle group can be made up of a number of different muscles and altering the posture of a stretch can put more stress on one particular muscle, therefore creating an imbalance (Walker, 2007).
• Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds when using static stretching. This will give the muscles ample time to completely relax and reach full extensibility.
Following all of these guidelines will not only ensure that the stretches are performed correctly, but will also help you on your way to reaping the many benefits of a regular stretching program. Take some time out of your busy day to participate in a "7th Inning Stretch". This simple addition to your daily routine is a great opportunity to break up your day, loosen up those muscles, and help you to feel re-energized and ready to tackle the rest of the day.
We have taken the time to pull together our Top Static Stretches and put them in a series to help you remember which muscles to focus on and how to properly stretch them. Start from the bottom and work your way up. Adding flexibility training to your routine will help you feel great and stay injury free.
Lucett., & Clark, C. -. (2008). Flexibility Training Concepts. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training (pp. 139-171).
Philadelphia: Wolkers Kluwer/Lippincott Williams And Wilkins. Walker, Brad. Anatomy of Stretching. California: North Atlantic Books, 2007.
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