NOTE: Over-stretching and engaging in athletic activities without a proper warm-up can cause microscopic tearing of muscle fibers or connective tissues.
You should know your limits and when to ease off. Never force yourself into any position it will hinder any progress you are seeking and may cause injury. Always warm up!
*The following information is comprised from “The Stark Reality of Stretching,” by Dr. Steven D. Stark, and “Beyond Stretching” by Pavel Tsatsouline
Stretching is a vital part of any exercise program and athletics. The best way to describe what “stretching” does, is that it will allow the athlete to not only acheive their best performance, but also to extend that performance for years by avoiding the consequences of long term muscle strain. Muscles that are stretched properly on a consistent basis, are more flexible and thus less prone to injury.
But what about improper stretching?
Stretches that put abnormal stress on the ligaments may cause permanent damage and should be avoided. It is a matter of knowing the basic anatomy of the body’s joints and ligaments, to learn where one should and should not feel tension.
Many athletes are told to hold a “stretch” for a certain amount of time (for example, 30 seconds). The reality is that a stretch cannot be timed because it varies from one individual to another. In truth a stretch should be held until the tension in the muscle group is gone. This timing also varies from day to day for each individual.
Remember, do not force your body beyond what it is capable of. Stretching can increase your flexibility, with time, but if not done properly, it will only cause injury and perhaps damage. Think of stretching as a way of training the body. You do not learn the steps in ballet and then execute them perfectly immediately, but you train your body to perfect them. The same goes for stretching, it gets better with time.
Overstretching can be a major problem for athletes because it does not hurt during the stretch but may be sore the next day and falsely attributed to normal soreness. If a muscle is sore for the next day, but gradually disappears with activity throughout the day, this is termed “normal soreness.” If the soreness continues for several days and can be felt at the end of the muscles (ligaments and joints), damage has more likely then occurred.
Warm-up exercises are not the same as stretching, and in fact should precede stretching. “Warming-up” is a way to increase the blood-flow to the muscles, and therefore warm the muscles and increases their elasticity. A warm up exercise should be a gentle exercise; an excellent example of warming up is walking. Stretching needs to precede the activity ‘immediately.’ The more time between the stretch and the exercise, the more time the muscle has to lose its elasticity and thus the energy stored is wasted.