There are four main reasons for stretching:
- To improve flexibility
- To aid mobility for a session about to be undertaken
- To help in the prevention of injuries
- To speed rehabilitation of the body after injury
Stretching can be performed as a session on its own in order to improve mobility. This is an aspect of training which is often neglected by athletes, and since good mobility can help prevent injury, it is something worth concentrating on.
More commonly, stretching will precede training sessions, with the aim being to prepare the muscles for activity and reduce the risk of prevent injury. To do this, current scientific evidence says we should do dynamic stretches. Athletes are now finding benefit in stretching post-training, as this returns muscles to their original state and removes "knots" formed through hard exercise, thereby reducing injury risk in future sessions.
Ill or Injured?
Stand alone static stretching sessions can be particularly useful in easier periods of training and when training is restricted by injury or illness, since it gives a sense of achievement on a purposeful activity whilst expending very little energy.
You should never force a stretch. Go to the point of tension and hold for the required duration. For safety, ensure yours knees and feet are pointing in the same direction and avoid “locking” either your elbows or knees straight.