Before I get into it, I hope you all aren’t annoyed or bored by my fitness posts! As I work towards a healthier, stronger me, fitness and health has started to become a much bigger part of my life. Since my blog is where I talk about what I love, this new interest is only going to continue leaking in with my beauty posts… and I have no intention of changing that! You’re all stuck with it now, hehe. So, the actual post: I don’t need to tell you all the benefits of stretching your muscles, you’ve probably heard it all before. If you engage in any sort of physical activity: walking, dancing, jogging, you name it — you need to be stretching to protect yourself from injury. Even if you would just like to increase your flexibility, learning to stretch correctly is a must! Lately I’ve been trying to improve my flexibility somewhat, as well as my usual stretching before exercise, and it got me wondering, why 30 seconds? I’ve had 30 seconds floating around my head ever since I was told in primary school P.E, but I’ve had a habit of holding for about 10 seconds and leaving it at that. Now that I’m putting more effort into doing it correctly, I thought I’d do a little bit of research into it. I’m the sort of person that needs to know the reason behind it in order for it to stick in my head and convince me not to cheat! It turns out, the safest and most beneficial way to stretch is pretty time consuming compared to my 10 second “cheat stretches.” We have sensory receptors in our muscles called muscle spindles. These act as a kind of built-in protective mechanism. When you stretch a muscle past it’s comfortable limit, the muscle spindles inside send a message to your brain via the central nervous system. They let it know that this muscle is being stretched and that we need to be careful to prevent injury. In response, you brain tells your muscle to contract to protect itself. This is why you feel that tight pain when you’re stretching. So if you hold a stretch for a measly 10 seconds (bad bambi!) all that happens is you experience some discomfort from the contractions and that’s the end of that. And that’s when another sensory receptor, the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO) comes into play. If you’ve held a stretch for too long, the GTOs pick up on it and tell your brain to let the muscles relax to protect yourself from tearing anything. This takes some time to react though, which is the whole idea behind holding it for 30 seconds or more. Once this message has been relayed you can feel your muscle relaxing a little and the discomfort goes away. To simplify: 1. You begin a stretch 2. Muscle spindles say “CAREFUL, CONTRAAACT!” 3. Contracting muscles = discomfort 4. Time ticks by… 5. GTO receptor thinks ‘Hang on, if you keep this up you might hurt something! Relax, man…” 6. Your muscle relaxes finally. Only after this point can your muscle lengthen and gain anything from the stretch. So the safest way to stretch it to go right up to the point where you feel some tension — DON’T try to push as far as you can — hold the stretch for 30 seconds at a minimum (some doctors recommend up to 60 seconds) and then slowly release. You can repeat this a few times if you like, but don’t push yourself too far and definitely don’t flashback to ‘Flashdance’ and bounce into the stretch, that’s bad news! If you want to lengthen your muscle you need to get past the contraction stage so for each repetition hold for 30–60 seconds for best results. Always go up to the point of tension but no further, I’ve overstretched plenty of times when I thought further was better and I was left with razor blade pains in my muscles for days afterwards! Ouchies. Interesting, huh? So now I know why we should stretch for 30 seconds and you do, too. Happy stretching! And one last disclaimer, don’t forget to warm up the muscles pre-stretching or you might hurt yourself. You can easily warm up with about 40 jumping jacks or a quick jog around the room.