Last week we looked at how correctly selected active stretches can be useful as part of a warm up 😃. Continuing on the theme of effective use of stretching let's take a look at both why and how we can incorporate stretching into a cool down.
Firstly let's consider what happens when we finish exercise 🤔:
As muscles fibres contract and relax during movement, that movement of the fibres over one another produces heat from friction. This, in turn, creates a slight swelling of the muscle fibres which can result in some fibres literally 'jamming'.
Additionally, we produce lactic acid as a product of muscle activity. Lactic acid has a purpose, a very important purpose! It affects muscle contractility, or in english, it makes it hard to move the muscle. Now, that's a protective mechanism, it prevents us from pushing beyond our muscles their own ability to produce repeated high intensity actions and causing catastrophic injury.
Whoever would have thought that lactic acid was actually our friend 🤯😀!
However, an important part of a cool down is to allow lactic acid to be flushed from the muscles and carried away in the blood stream as the activity level drops off, hence a concept of a gradual cool down. If we just stop the blood flow/demand drops too, but the lactic acid stays put. This is obviously not too good, because, as we mentioned.....lactic acid affects muscle contractility, so results in you being stiff 😒.
So Stretching plays an important role at the end of exercise. It allows you to encourage shortened muscle fibres back to correct length, as well as freeing those 'jammed fibres' and in doing so allows the muscle to move more freely. This, in turn, improves blood flow though the muscle, so helps remove the lactic acid 👏.
Now, if you decide not to cool down and stretch well you will still end up with some jammed fibres, stiffness from lactic acid, which stated another way is a muscle that can't act correctly. You then go to your next workout, with this muscle only partially working, which results in other muscles having to work too hard to make up for it. Over time, this is how we end up with aches , pains, muscle and tendon tears, and joint problems, even when gardening!
So the stretches we are looking for at the end of an activity tend to be stretches that we either hold in position for twenty seconds such as static developmental stretches, or involve slow rhythmical movements, such as those found in oscillatory stretches. There are almost too many of these to cover in a blog but an internet search of those terms will produce plenty of demonstrations of how to perform them 👍.
What we need to be absolutely certain of is that we don't waste our time!
By this we mean let's get specific 🧐 Look at the actual muscle groups you have used during your activity and stretch those. I know it sounds so obvious when put like that, but most of us do a few token 'general' stretches that we have picked up here and there, with no real thought to what we actually need to really be stretching.
If you are running then stretch the muscles specific to running, if you are cycling then stretch the muscles specific to cycling, if you are playing golf then stretch the specific muscles used in golf...the cycling stretches probably won't be terribly helpful 🤔!
Most importantly, if you have no idea what you should really be stretching for your particular sports or activity, or are just not sure if you are doing stretches correctly, then call us here at The Reinge Clinic and we will help you develop exactly what you need 👍.
Happy activities 👋