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Stretching - What is it and why is it important?

  • Stretching: A specific muscle or tendon is deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle’s elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone

Not to be confused with:

  • Mobility: To be able to move or be moved freely or easily in relation to the joint or
  • Flexibility: The quality of bending easily without breaking in relation to the elasticity of muscles

Why is stretching important?

Stretching gives us the range of motion our body needs to perform daily. Therefore, living off the ethos ‘Range before Load’ will prevent injuries. If you have enough range to perform the exercise you are performing you will not get injured.

However, there is something to be said about the age that stretching, mobility or flexibility disciplines are utilised. Mobility and flexibility are better to be worked on when you are young, while you are growing, and your growth plates are still visible. After they have fuzed (age 18 for females, 22 for males) adults work on stretching to increase their range of motion, prevent muscle soreness and posture correction. Adults can still increase their flexibility with the use of weight and correct PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) or Contact Relax Methods.

For those in the mobility, flexibility or stretching realm these methods might sound familiar to you, if not let me explain briefly. Your muscles have a stretch reflex. A reflex makes your muscles contract when they get to end range to save the muscle, tendon or ligament from tearing and causing damage; like a safety mechanism.

When you consciously contract a muscle at end range and exhaust it, it will lengthen and because you are contracting the muscle at end range it gives you the strength and stability to control this new range of motion. I believe these methods are the most effective for gaining and controlling flexibility, however a simple 10-15 minute stretching routine morning and night will control or maintain whatever mobility you have right now.

As a nation we are being more and more immobile, deskbound and injury prone. Perhaps if I tell you the benefits of stretching it might convince you to start. Stretching is a simple and effective activity that helps to enhance athletic performance, decrease the likelihood of injury, minimise muscle soreness, decrease stress and improves sleep quality.

Benefits of stretching

1. Improved range of movement

By increasing our range of movement, we are increasing the distance our limbs can move before damage occurs to the muscles and tendons. For example, the muscles and tendons in the back of our legs are put under great strain when kicking a soccer ball, therefore the more flexible/pliable those muscles are, the further our leg can travel forward before a strain or injury occurs to them. The benefits of an extended range of movement include increased comfort, a greater ability to move freely and a lessening of our susceptibility to muscle and tendon strain injuries.

2. Increased power

By increasing our muscles length, we are increasing the distance over which they can contract. This results in a potential increase to our muscles power and therefore increases our athletic ability, while also leading to an improvement in dynamic balance, or the ability to control our muscles.

3. Reduced post exercise muscle soreness

DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is a result of micro tears within the muscle fibres, blood pooling and accumulation of waste products, such as lactic acid. Stretching as part of an effective cool down, helps to alleviate this soreness by lengthening the individual muscle fibres, increasing blood circulation and removing waste products.

4. Reduced fatigue

Fatigue results in a decrease in both physical and mental performance. Increased flexibility through stretching can help prevent the effects of fatigue by taking pressure off the working muscles (agonists). For every muscle in the body there is an opposite or opposing muscle (antagonist). When the opposing muscles are more flexible, the working muscles do not have to exert as much force against them. Therefore, each movement of the working muscles actually takes less effort.

A regular stretching program (provided below) will also help to improve posture, develop body awareness, improve coordination, promote circulation, increase energy and improve relaxation and stress relief. 

Part 1

Explains the horrible adaptations of our deskbound nation and demonstrations of the corrective stretches and exercises.

part 2

Demonstrates the exercises on a client, so you can see how to be coached through the exercises.


Article supplied by Kelly MacDonald

Kelly is a Personal Trainer at Les Mills Britomart, she specialises in Mobility, Flexibility, Rehab, and Structural balance. Kelly has represented New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Last year she won the REPS Up and Coming Personal Trainer award for New Zealand.