Champaign, IL—Athletes spend hours training to hone their skills, but few consider stretching a vital component to their athletic performance. According to popular author Frédéric Delavier, stretching has the ability to increase performance levels and should be included in every athlete's training regimen. In his book, Delavier's Stretching Anatomy (Human Kinetics, 2011), Delavier discusses the top five reasons every athlete should stretch.
- Maintain or increase range of motion. Repetitive athletic movements can reduce range of motion by tightening the muscles and tendons. “A certain tension is required, especially in strength sports, but too much tension and a decreased range of motion can ultimately lead to injury and reduced performance,” Delavier explains. “Stretching regularly can prevent this problem.” In certain fields, like swimming or gymnastics, stretching must be done regularly to increase the range of motion in a joint when that range is synonymous with increased performance.
- Increase muscle tone. Stretching is a powerful signal to strengthen muscles. “Using the muscle's passive resistance strength, stretching accelerates the speed at which the proteins that compose the muscle fibers are synthesized,” says Delavier. “Your body gains muscle tone, strength, and resilience this way.”
- Warm up before working out. Stretching warms up the muscles, tendons, and joints, which prepares the body for physical exertion.
- Relieve stress. “Thanks to its euphoric oxygenating effects, stretching minimizes stress that can paralyze muscles, which is especially beneficial before a competition,” Delavier says.
- Relax, recuperate, and prevent injuries. Most muscular efforts compress various joints as well as the spine. “Stretching decompresses your back as well as your joints,” Delavier says. “This prevents injuries while accelerating recovery of the joints, tendons, and muscles.”
Although flexibility is important for an athlete, Delavier advises finding a balance between muscle tension and flexibility. The muscle must be flexible enough to have a slightly greater range of motion to prevent injuries and aid movement, but not so flexible as to diminish performance by becoming like a rag doll whose joints move around easily. “Stretching has the ability to increase or diminish performance levels,” Delavier adds. “So we must be careful to use stretching properly.”
Delavier's Stretching Anatomy offers stretches for releasing tension, increasing flexibility, and creating an overall sense of well-being. For more information, see Delavier's Stretching Anatomy.