What Actually Happens When You Stretch Your Muscles?
Stretching your muscles keeps them supple, strong, and fit. Your joints depend on the flexibility of your muscles to maintain a full range of motion. If you don’t stretch regularly, your muscles will shrink, shortening your range of motion. In this article, you’ll learn the critical types of stretches and what happens when you stretch your muscles.
Important Types of Stretches
Stretches can be either static or dynamic, depending on how they affect your flexibility. Static stretches target static flexibility, while dynamic stretches affect dynamic flexibility. Each category has a variety of stretches that you can do to target different muscles.
Dynamic stretching involves moving different parts of your body and slowly increasing the reach and speed of your movements. However, don’t confuse dynamic stretching with ballistic stretching. Dynamic involves controlled swinging of legs and arms that start slowly and increase gradually, and ballistic stretching involves forcing parts of your body beyond their range of motion.
Static stretching involves stretching muscles to their farthest point and holding that position for a specific duration. This shouldn’t be confused with passive stretching, which consists in using equipment or another person to stretch your muscles to their full range of motion while you’re completely relaxed.
What Happens to Your Muscles During Stretching?
When you understand the physiological concept of stretching your muscles, you can find the right stretches to target specific muscles. First, understand that your muscles and bones form what’s commonly referred to as a musculoskeletal system, and this is what protects your internal organs.
Your muscles are made of many strands of tissue known as fascicles. Each strand consists of numerous muscle fibers, which are made of thousands of thread-like, flexible myofybrils that contract, elongate and relax when you stretch your muscles. Myofibrils contain millions of sarcomeres that are arranged end-to-end.
All these layers of muscle elongate and contract at different levels of intensity. Your muscles are connected to your spinal column to facilitate the flow of electrical signals through the neuromuscular junction from your nervous system to your muscles when you stretch. When the signal reaches your muscle, the muscle fibers are stimulated to allow the flow of calcium, causing the myofilaments to glide across each other.
This causes your sarcomeres to shorten to generate force and contract the muscle fibers. When your sarcomere contracts, the area of overlap between the myofilaments increases. So, when the sarcomere stretches, the area of overlap decreases, allowing your muscle fibers to elongate.
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