By stretching gently our body become’s more pliable and less prone to injury. Stretching develops flexibility but it also helps to reduce muscle tension, making the body feel more relaxed, it increases the range of motion of a joint, promotes circulation, reduces muscle soreness, prepares the body for strenuous exercise and prevents muscle strains. A strong pre-stretched muscle resists stress better than a strong un-stretched muscle.
Whenever a muscle is stretched, the immediate effect is for the stretch reflex to be activated. The stretch reflex is a function of the nervous system; it helps to keep muscle in good tone and prevent injury. Stretching a muscle changes its shape by lengthening the fibres and the muscle being stretched contracts. Because stretching causes muscle contraction, you should avoid ‘bouncing’ or ballistic stretches. Performing ballistic stretches increase the tension in the muscle resulting in an attempt to stretch a tense muscle thus resulting in injury.
Please Note: there are several forms of advanced stretching that require tension to be focussed in the targeted muscle but this is beyond the scope of this article and may be discussed in future articles.
For general stretching to be at its most effective, the muscles targeted for the stretch should be completely relaxed and stretched slowly and smoothly. It is advisable to warm up before stretching and focus on the muscle being stretched. Stretch muscles in their natural position, maintain a good body posture and breathe normally and freely. As you move deeper into the stretch emphasise your exhalation and focus your breath into any muscles that feel tight. As a rule inhale to prepare and exhale to stretch. Stretching may result in mild discomfort but if you feel pain, stop, slowly release and rest the stretch.
It is desirable to stretch on a daily basis and people without pre existing health conditions are perfectly safe to do so. Stretching can be done almost anywhere and at any time as no specific equipment is required. Evening is a good time to stretch and the relaxation induced may serve to help you sleep. Many of us sit and watch the TV in the evening so why not sit on the floor instead of in the armchair and stretch while you are watching. There really is no excuse for saying “I do not have the time!”.
In conclusion; stretching is a natural thing to do and has a great feel good factor to it with many associated health benefits. It will make you feel better and will be of great benefit to you, your Wing Chun or indeed any other physical activity that you undertake!