Recently a client asked me, “Is it important to stretch?” I have come to realize many people do not seem to know how, when or why they should stretch! I am so grateful for my flexibility. I owe it to my mom who put me in dance at age 4. Since then, stretching has been a part of my every day life. Now as a fitness professional, I understand more about how our muscles respond to different types of stretching. The timing of the stretch (before or after a workout), and the way you stretch can affect your performance and flexibility.
We all come from very different backgrounds and our body mechanics can be affected by one or more of the following: adolescence, what we do for a living, our genes, whether or not we have or have had an injury, the types of activity we engage in, and how sedentary we might be. I hope this article brings to light some of the important reasons to incorporate proper stretching into your life.
Think of stretching as therapy for your body. Stretching can prevent or treat an injury, improve performance, increase range of motion, speed up recovery time after a workout, and reduce stress. When stretching, make certain you are focused on what you are doing and you take it seriously. Remember, your form is just as important when stretching as it is when working out. The best way to get the most out of anything you do is to give it your undivided attention and do it properly the first time.
When to Stretch
I recommend stretching once or twice daily. Never force a stretch, and if you feel pain of any kind, stop immediately. If you feel pain, you are either stretching too deeply, performing the stretch without the proper form, or you might have an injury. Focusing on form and technique is your path to a productive stretch, otherwise it can be counterproductive. If you have back, neck, or joint problems, always consult a physician before beginning a new stretching program.
Stretching can help the joints move through a full range of motion during the workout. Working your muscles through a full range of motion can create Synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates the joints for ease of movement. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, or are sitting down most of the day at work, over time you are more likely to get aches and pains in your joints because of the lack of Synovial fluid (lubrication) in your joints. Walking is a wonderful dynamic stretch for your hip flexors. So, set an alarm to stand up and walk around every hour of sitting. Squats at your desk will help create some synovial fluid in your ankles, knees, and hips. do some squats after you walk around for a bit!
There are times stretching will not improve performance when done before a workout, even if done after a warm-up. I suggest stretching primary muscle groups after, not before, a workout or event that includes heavy strength training, high intensity exercise or competitive events that require fast twitch muscles such as sprinting.
Stretching improves posture and, when completed before a workout, it will promote proper alignment and posture during the workout. I often stretch opposing muscle groups before the workout. For example: stretching the chest before we work on back muscles to help improve posture, alignment, and range of motion. Another example of stretching before a workout to increase range of motion during an exercise is to stretch the hamstrings before supine leg lifts.
Stretching after a workout, when muscles are warm, is a safe way of increasing flexibility, increase circulation throughout the muscles, increase bone density, improve balance, and reduce muscle soreness.
Stretching should be done every day, even if you are not working out. During your lunch breaks at work or anytime during the day. You can go for a walk and then stretch for about 5-10 minutes; hold each stretch for about 30 seconds.
How to stretch
Dynamic stretching and static stretching are the methods I use to improve flexibility, performance, balance, circulation, bone density, posture, and alignment.
Dynamic stretching is actively stretching a muscle through movement without stopping to hold a stretch. This type of stretching can improve performance by increasing oxygenated blood flow to the muscles. (For example: second position leg press laying down on the reformer helps to open the hips and stretch the inner thighs. Another example is standing squats, which help stretch your hips and bring blood flow to your lower body muscles).
Static stretching is taking a muscle to its full range of motion and sustaining the position for a length of time and is a standard way of measuring flexibility. Holding a static stretch for 30 seconds has been proven to increase range of motion. Ballistic stretching (aka bouncing in a stretch and using the momentum to increase the flexibility in a muscle) has been proven to increase the risk of injury, so I suggest not bouncing in your stretches. It will take time to notice a difference, so be patient and stay consistent with your stretching!
How about doing a 5 Minute Workout?
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Disclaimer: Please check with your doctor and have it cleared before beginning any new exercise or diet program. I am not a doctor or registered dietician, my blog is opinion based and I do not claim to diagnose, treat, or cure any cause, condition or disease. All information provided is for informational purposes only; it is not medical advice and has not been approved by the FTC or FDA. Please always communicate with your doctor to make any decisions or changes regarding your health, as your doctor is the only one who knows what is right for you.