What is a stretch
Simply put, a stretch consists of taking a muscle through its full range of extension. However its not quite that simple, there are at least 2 major types of stretching. One is dynamic (like rotating your torso to warm up the back) and the other is passive (like holding a split). For the purposes of this article, we will be concentrating on the passive stretch, which is to be performed AFTER a yoga session that involves contraction of the muscles. For example, you would do a lower and upper back stretch after you do a back-bending pose such as Extended wheel or Camel.
Passive stretches are not to be used as warm-ups. They do not provide the same function and muscles can be damaged while stretching them cold. Yoga practitioners should always start any routine or session with at least 10 Suryanamaskars to warm up. This, by the way, is what serves as the dynamic stretch to the whole body before starting a routine.
Provided along with this article are some example of stretches for the full body. Pick and choose among them to target the muscles you are working on. Rule of thumb :- Stretch what you strengthen and strengthen what you stretch. Hold each stretch for at least 5 in-out breaths. Remember to breath deeply for maximum efficiency.
A stretch happens in stages. There are a few different muscle fibers and nerve endings that work together to make it possible, along with connective tissue. At the onset of a stretch, extrafusal muscle fibers stretch while intrafusal fibers in the same muscle attempt to contract, to prevent injury to the muscle. This is the stretch reflex. Training can get you to the point where there is little to no contraction as a response to a fast stretch. However, it takes holding a stretch to get the intrafusal fibers accustomed to the new length of the muscle and get them to stop signalling a contraction. That is why you always work up to a stretch and never go beyond what your body will let you.
If there is no injury, then anyone can work their muscles up to the full range of motion. Flexibility can be practiced.
How does it help
Humans often use a very limited amount of their full muscle range. Stretching helps the body get reacquainted with what it can truly do. Holding an isotonic stretch with proper form will also realign all the muscle fibers and “tone” the muscle involved. Another important reason to stretch is recovery of the strained muscle. Proper stretching will oxygenate the entire muscle at its longest length , thereby improving your strength training.