So, what’s the deal with stretching anyway? Like many health topics, the debate on stretching is always changing. One day it’s bad for you and another it’s the best thing since sliced bread. From my own research, years of training, and personal experiences, stretching has always helped me.
Here are the two most common questions I’m asked about stretching.
1. Why should I stretch?
2. Should I stretch before or after my workout?
Relax, you don’t need to be like Gumby, but incorporating a few minutes of stretching into your workouts can make a world of difference.
First and foremost, stretching helps warm up your muscles by increasing blood flow, helps increase your range of motion, which can improve your athletic performance, and could also decrease your risk of injury. Stretching also often helps alleviate low back pain. However, if done incorrectly, stretching can be dangerous, so make sure you follow my simple checklist below.
The act of stretching doesn’t count as an actual warm up. Warm your body up with 5-10 minutes of jogging, biking, or low intensity cardio first. Once you are warmed up then you can spend a few minutes stretching. There are two different stretching methods, dynamic and static. There is a time and place for each of these methods.
The best for pre-workout is a dynamic stretch. This type of stretching involves putting your muscles through a full range of motion while “firing up” the muscle. Basically, you are elevating the muscles temperature and getting the nervous system ready for some heavy lifting. When thinking about dynamic stretching focus on active explosive movements like arm circles, cradle walks, high kicks, and Carioca. These stretching exercises will help activate and wake up your muscles.
Post-workout (or mid-workout if necessary) you should focus on static stretching.
This is the typical stretch we think of, the “stretch and hold” method. Static stretching helps dull our nervous system and bring it back down to rest; hence why yoga stretching is so good for relaxation and calming our bodies, as well as minds. Make sure to include all of your muscle groups, not just the ones that you worked out.
Here’s my checklist with just a few things to remember:
• Don’t bounce- this can cause injury
• Hold the stretch- hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat 3 times per muscle
• Symmetry- don’t forget to stretch both sides (left, right, front, back)
• Breath- inhale & exhale while stretching to increase blood flow. This carries oxygen to your muscles and helps with increasing flexibility and decreasing soreness
• Tension is okay, pain is not- if you are feeling pain, back off a little
• Make it a habit- incorporate stretching with all your workouts
• Practice- the more you stretch, the easier it gets
• Challenge yourself- set goals and focus on reaching just a little bit farther each time in order to reach your goals
• Make it fun- try a yoga, stretching, or Pilates class for added motivation
Okay, so now that you have an overview let’s get to the floor and stretch to reach our goals!