The importance of Stretching
As you get older, stretching becomes more important. I'm speaking from first hand experience. Unfortunately when you're at the gym and doing a little people watching, you won't see alot of stretching being done. Most think doing a couple light sets preps the muscles for their workout. Not necessarily so...
There are correct ways to warmup the muscle areas. First of all, before you stretch, be sure and do a couple of low intensity sets of an exercise so you won't stretch a cold muscle. You increase the risk of injury, especially a pulled muscle.
Some key tips when stretching...you should hold your stretch for 30 seconds or longer for problem areas. Something that I've done for years is stretch between sets. For example, when I'm doing squats, I'll do a deep lunge with each leg and relax it at the bottom position, then I'll shake it out before I begin my next set. Also make sure you don't bounce. Ease into your stretch til you reach the finish position. Any type of bouncing can cause muscle tears which can leave scar tissue, further tightening the muscle.
Also you want the stretch to be pain free. Don't force a muscle to go into the pain zone. If you feel yourself getting to that point, back off, then hold it.
Finally, relax and breathe freely. By that I mean let the muscle that your stretching relax. If your doing heavy squats and you're doing lunges for your quads and the ligaments and tendons around the knee,at the bottoms position, take a dreep breath and allow the muscle area to go limp. Then before you do your next set, shake out the muscle.
One question I've been asked by some of my trainees is how often should I stretch. As a general rule, whenever you exercise, you stretch. This is doubly important the older you are. You find that your ligaments and tendons aren't as flexible as they once were. This is why it's expremely critical to make stretching part of your workout.
Reasons for stretching
There are alot of benefits to adding stretching to your workout. The first being the prevention of injury. Prepping your muscle joints for any activity can be beneficial in keeping you off the disabled list.
Stretching also increases flexibility. Remember those days when you were a kid and you had to do squat thrusts in gym class. Those muscles get older and tighter as the years progress.
You also improve your range of motion of joints, expecially as you age. I've noticed the one area that has gotten tighter for me is my shoulders. It takes me much longer to loosen up the area. Back when I was Olympic Lifting and doing snatches I depended on the flexibilty of my deltoids. Unfortunately as I've gotten older the muscles have gotten don't have the same range of motion as they once did.
Stretching also improves circulation. It increases the blood flow to your muscles which is invaluable and can speed recovery after an injury.
One principal that yoga instructors have preached for years is that stretching relieves stress. It's been proven to relax tense muscles that have been under abnormal stress whether it be from intense workouts or sitting at a desk all day while staring at a computer