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Warming up before embarking on a workout is imperative to prepare the body for the increased energy demands. Similarly, post-workout routine after rigorous exercise helps cool down the body quite effectively. One of the commonest pre and post workout routine mistakes that people make is to stretch.
Passive and active stretching has long been accepted as a part of pre and post workout regimes but has been a subject of extensive debate among the fitness experts. With mounting evidence that stretching causes the muscles to tighten up, the experts agree that the potential hazards of stretching far outweigh its benefits.
How Stretching Causes Muscle Tightness
Stretching works the muscles, causing them to shorten. When muscle fibers become short in size, the tension within the muscle increases and they become rigid and tight. The result is an acutely unpleasant feeling of muscle soreness and cramping.
A recent study carried out at the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Texas, examined the changes that occurred in the stretched and upstretched muscles in the same person. It was found out that stretching one muscle group also stretches other muscles through neuroinhibitory mechanisms, causing muscle rigidity in multiple muscle groups.
Another of the reason for the feeling of tightness is the entrapment of blood vessels and nerves that run along the muscles, between the muscles when they get shortened upon stretching. Tension on the blood vessels and nerves causes the muscles to become hypertonic (tight).
How Does Muscle Tightness Affect Your Body?
When the muscles become too tense and tight, the range of motion is reduced, making it difficult for the joints and limbs to fully extend. Limited mobility makes it very hard for a person to stick to his daily exercise routine.
Over stretched and tight muscles ultimately become weak and less responsive, a fact that has been established through research. According to Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital, the strained muscles stay weak for up to 30 minutes after stretching and can hinder the workout before it even starts.
Stretching of muscles in athletes has been linked with loss of power and a decline in the muscle functions. It adversely affects the lower limb power and the abilities of sprinting and vertical jumping. Muscle tightness as a result of stretching also increases the risk of muscle injury. Joint instability is another of the hazards that accompany stretching.
The need to stretch before and after a workout stems from a number of factors including muscle dehydration, hormonal imbalances, connective tissue tightness, electrolyte abnormalities , vitamin B12 deficiency etc. Stretching only serves to worsen these problems, which is why stretching should be avoided during the pre and post workout routines and be replaced with more effective warm-up and cool-down sequences.