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Stretching: The undervalued performance booster

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Stretching is a highly controversial topic among athletes, sports scientists and doctors. Opinions regarding its value and which methods to use vary depending on the type of sport, the worked muscle groups and the intensity. We at Freeletics consider stretching to be extremely valuable. As well as promoting athletic ability, such as flexibility and agility, it also offers many other advantages. Therefore, we would like to present to you a few facts on the topic of stretching and to inform you of the importance of this topic.

First off, stretching exercises are a mandatory part of training for every athlete and should be taken just as seriously as the training itself. Immediately after training, you should spend a few minutes gently cooling down. When it comes to intense sports such as Freeletics Bodyweight, it is extremely important to give the body a few minutes to “shutdown”. Otherwise you may experience dizziness and nausea as your heart rate and blood pressure fall rapidly. Once settled, start your stretching routine in order to loosen any residual muscle tension.

What are the benefits of stretching in general?

A stretched muscle has a better metabolism and can therefore absorb more nutrients from the blood and regenerate more quickly. It can store more energy and can make this energy available more quickly during training. Waste products and free radicals are also transported faster away from the muscles. Thus, in the long-run, stretching results in greater power and endurance, while the muscles are more supple, and at the same time firmer. Just as the correct warm-up can reduce the risk of cramps, strains, tears and injuries of all kinds, so too can target-oriented stretching. Muscular interaction is improved since stretching stimulates the nervous system.

Stretching exercises also have a relaxing effect on the body and mind, which are interdependent. When training with Freeletics, not only do you push your body to the limit, but your willpower must also be on top of its game. Stretching exercises send a signal to your brain, telling it that the training session is over and that it is time to wind down. Serotonin is distributed in the bloodstream, a feeling of satisfaction sets in and you experience a new lease of life.

What does stretching do for my fitness level?

Some Freeletics Bodyweight exercises such as Leg Levers, Pistols and Standups require not only strength and coordination, but also a certain degree of flexibility. The stretching exercises in our Static Stretching set are the perfect way for you to prepare for demanding Freeletics exercises, meaning it won’t be long before you win your first star.

What happens inside the muscles?

The sarcomeres or muscle fibers consist of small, overlapping fibers – so-called filaments, which look like small barbs. Some ensure that the muscle can tighten, i.e. contract, while others hold it together when relaxed. When at rest they ensure a certain degree of basic tension – in this state the muscles can be pictured as being slightly wavy.

Put simply, actin and myosin are responsible for tension and titin for relaxation or rest. The sarcomeres are joined at the longitudinal end by the so-called Z-discs, to which the actin and titin proteins are also anchored.

When stretching, the sarcomere is stretched lengthwise, until it reaches a certain tolerance point. This does not cause the muscle to wear out or become elongated permanently, as the muscle continually retracts to its resting position. Regular stretching exercises train the brain to allow for a greater stretching tolerance, which is only ever as high as what the athlete is accustomed to. There are, in fact, precise sensors in the muscles that continually inform the brain of the degree to which the muscle is stretched. If this is too high, the brain reacts with countermeasures and sending pain impulses.

At the same time, the production of titin is encouraged in order to stabilize the muscle passively and improve the tension of the muscle at rest, which makes the muscle more stable, firmer, more secure during movement and less susceptible to injury.

Shortened musculature – a myth!

The phrase “shortened musculature” repeatedly crops up in this context, particularly in relation to the thigh. However, technically speaking this term is incorrect, as a muscle only shortens for pathological reasons, or in other words, it becomes shorter than nature intended. The muscle itself is in its natural resting state, it’s just that the brain has not allowed sufficient stretching tolerance for this muscle. This is often genetically determined, but can be trained. It would therefore be more apt to speak of ‘unstretched’ musculature, rather than shortened musculature.

Can stretching result in increased muscle strength?

For the aforementioned reasons, stretching is also of interest to athletes who wish to build muscles. Muscles are not only more quickly supplied with nutrients to grow faster through stretching, but they also brought under tensionin such a way that a hypertrophic stimulus or a growth stimulus is generated. If the pulling force acting on the Z-discs is great enough or corresponds to the force of a contraction, our body not only reacts by producing more titin, but by creating entire sarcomeres.

Why Static Stretching?

Essentially, a distinction can be made between static and dynamic stretching, and their various forms of active and passive. For Freeletics Bodyweight, we decided for Static Stretching, whereby a position is held for a certain period of time and the muscle is slowly protracted. This type of stretching can be controlled easily – whether performed by beginners or advanced athletes – and is therefore perfectly suited to training with Freeletics. By holding the end position, both progress and regression can be easily monitored. A slight degree of tension is desired – even if it feels a little uncomfortable. Gently shake out your muscles between the individual exercises and avoid jerking movements in order to prevent injury.

That said, contrary to popular assumption, the risk of injury with static stretching is very low. Here our sensitivity to pain, which functions by the aforementioned signaling mechanism, acts as an important warning sign. In general a stretch feels extremely uncomfortable long before we reach a position that has the potential to cause injury. Therefore simply make sure that you do not get too ambitious!

By the way: you can also perform our static stretching routine occasionally outside of training to relieve stress, stimulate blood flow or to relieve tension. It won’t take any longer than 15 minutes to run through a set!