As you grow older, you will develop muscle imbalances because your lower-body muscles will gradually shorten. These muscles will continue to remain shortened if you don’t do appropriate stretching exercises.
How Muscles Use Energy?
When a muscle is working, it is letting off energy to do that work, whether the muscle is lengthening, shortening, or maintaining a steady length while resisting the tension of the pressure forced on it. Under these conditions, muscles behave in the following ways:
? They use up energy and shorten to produce motion.
? They use up energy and lengthen to control activity.
? They use up energy without changing the length or resisting movement to maintain an original position.
? They store energy.
? They let off energy stored during a stretch as heat if the muscles are not used after a certain period.
Muscle Strength Concerning Power
Muscle strength is considered how large the muscle mass is, how much pressure a muscle can hold, and how much tension the muscle can develop without tearing.
Muscle power is how much load a muscle can move and how fast that muscle can move that specific load. A muscle has its most potent when the individual muscle fibers are at their most extended length of contraction. This muscle can carry a more significant load at a faster speed. When the muscle fibers contract, the load they can move and the rate at which they can move lessens.
Consequently, you gain strength by increasing your muscle mass through exercise, and you get power by lengthening your muscle fibers through stretching.
That is evidence/reason for stretching and maintaining good flexibility through developing the excellent habit of warming up and stretching. You can then achieve your full potential in sports or whatever physical activity you are involved in. Extend your best performance for many more years of your athletic life, and avoid the future consequences of ligament and joint damage caused by improper preparation.
What Happens to A Muscle Under Stress?
When a muscle group is stressed, the muscle fibers contract and shorten to respond to the loading force. At this moment, the muscle is using energy to resist this force. If the tension is held long enough and the muscle is not overloaded, it will eventually relax to its regular length. That happens by overlapping muscle fibers sliding past their original relaxed length and continuing until there is no longer any tension in the muscle. Energy is stored in your muscles during the sliding process; thus, giving your muscles more power.
Stretching is very important as a maintenance exercise for weight-bearing muscles. To stay active and healthy, you need to maintain proper symmetry and length in these weight-bearing muscle groups as your muscle shortens your joint position and stride-length strength changes. That causes damage to ligaments, which results in further changes in joint function and posture.
Think of the elderly gentleman or woman with chronic pains and ache in his/her knees and lower back, whose posture you have witnessed changed over the years. In all probability, they can help themselves by correcting structural and muscle imbalances of their lower body by stretching. To improve such a condition, they need better muscle function, joint position, and stride length, reducing the stress on their joints and ligaments. Consequently, posture does not have to deteriorate with age.
Tense muscles lead to decreased sensory awareness and raise blood pressure. Thus, constantly tight muscles lessen their blood circulation. Blood is the liquid conduit of oxygen and food nutrients to the muscles and removes toxic waste. Therefore, muscles suffer from a lack of oxygen and nutrients and toxic waste build-up, resulting in fatigue, ache, and sometimes a pain because of a reduced blood supply.
When weight lifting, the length of individual muscle fiber gets shorter by repetitive motion and fatigue. Muscle shortening over a long period will cause muscle imbalances resulting in ligament damage, excessive movement in the joint, and loss of function and power.
Stretching helps prevent these injuries by not allowing the gradual, imperceptible shortening of individual muscle fibers brought on by repetitive motion and fatigue. Stretch and grow old upright.
Warming-up and Stretching
I remember when my teacher would say, “Warm-up, do a few stretches!” How wrong was he? Very wrong! Warming up and stretching serve different purposes. Warm-ups do just what the word says. They are repetitive exercises done at very low intensity to warm up the muscles in readiness for higher intensity exercises, including stretching. Before you start a stretching routine, you should do low-intensity warm-ups. Warm muscles have an increased blood supply, making the muscle less likely to be injured by stretching and more strenuous activities.
Good warm-up exercises include repetitive exercises done with a light load at low intensity. Examples are walking, cycling, rowing, stair climbing, and exercising with light weights, but not jogging and skipping rope because the joints are not warmed up and prepared to absorb the body’s shock landing on the firm surface material. Jogging and skipping rope will cause degenerative changes to your lower joints, pelvis, and spine if constantly used as warming-up methods.
Simple start-up stretches must be done in such a way so that ligaments of the joints are not loaded. Advanced skill stretching that puts a load on the body’s structure should only be done by athletes who have been doing such training from childhood.
Guidelines for Proper Stretching
✅ A simple stretch should be a stretch done by you without being aided by a partner.
✅ The stretch must include only one major muscle or muscle group and be in a position where it is not using energy to maintain its position.
✅ After stretching one major muscle or a specific group of muscles, you should pull the offsetting ones.
✅ Stretch the front muscles of your thighs before stretching your hamstrings.
✅ A proper stretch should also not load other structures such as ligaments, sciatic nerve, or joint capsules – membrane enclosing a joint.
✅ Always keep your neck and backbone in a straight line.
✅ Any stretch that places abnormal stress on ligaments will slowly cause permanent damage. Ligaments stabilize your joints by connecting bone to bone. When overstretched, they will gradually lengthen. As the ligament extends, it becomes weaker and cannot properly bind the bones of the joint. If you overstretch the ligament regularly, it can become permanently lengthened and can lead to chronic inflammation in your joints.
✅ Stretches cannot be timed. The relaxation time back to its original length will vary from person to person and from day to day even in the same person.
✅ Do not overstretch. Overstretching is placing too much tension on a muscle group. It can lead to injury.
✅ If a muscle feels tight, stretch it after stretching the offsetting muscle.
✅ While stretching, you should not feel any discomfort in a tendon because tendons are practically inelastic tissue attaching your muscles to your bones. They are more robust than both the muscle and the bone covering to which they are attached. Tendons can not stretch, and since they are solid, the connecting muscle or the bone surrounding tissue tears before the tendon.
✅ Do not stretch injured or aching muscles.
Getting Ready for the Competition
Warm-up and stretch immediately before any athletic event or competitive activity to take full advantage of the increased power stored in your muscle. If you warm up and stretch a half-hour before an event, your muscle will contract back to its original length, and the stored energy will dissipate as heat. Therefore, you waste the energy that is held by stretching.
In summary, good flexibility in your joints and muscles helps prevent injuries, such as torn ligaments, muscle tears, and lower backaches. As a child, you had natural flexibility and a wide range of motion in your joints. Still, as you age, you lose that natural flexibility, and stretching is the only exercise that could improve your flexibility and help you to maintain it.