Do you stretch? If so, regularly? Be honest, do you take time out of each day or a few minutes after exercise to get it in? Most people don’t. I didn’t even start stretching regularly until I hit my early 30’s. Today, I’m going to focus on flexibility and why it’s so important. Flexibility is one of the five components of physical fitness and the benefits are vast. There are several different types of stretching. Each type of stretching accomplishes a different purpose. Here, I’m going to focus on static stretching and dynamic stretching, as these are the most beneficial for both endurance athletes and the general population.
Static stretching is what most people think of when they think of stretching. This is where you hold a position for a given period of time, like bending forward at the waist and reaching for the toes to stretch out the hamstrings. Back in the day, we were told static stretching should be done before exercise. Does anyone remember doing this? Team stretches before practice? I do. This is no longer the recommendation and some studies show it can cause adverse effects to performance when done pre-exercise.
Static stretching is ideally done AFTER EXERCISE or even after a hot shower. At this time, the muscles have an increased blood flow and the muscles are more pliable, better prepared to stretch. It helps to think of your muscles like a rubber band. Let’s say you have a rubber band you just pulled out of the fridge. This rubber band is taut, it does not stretch well. The likelihood of it snapping is greater. But once this rubber band has been sitting out in the warm air, it has much more flexibility and elasticity. It works the same way with your muscles. So, what are the rules with static stretching?
• Ideally, stretch after exercise or a hot shower
• Stretch all your major muscles groups
• Stretch to the point of mild discomfort, you should not feel pain
• Hold each pose for 10-30 seconds
• Complete each pose 1-3x
• Do NOT bounce while holding the stretch
Why should you do static stretching? What’s the importance? For many reasons, even if you do not regularly exercise. For one, it leads to an improved range of motion and decreased stiffness. This is especially important as we age. With age, our joints lose some range of motion, we can help to counteract this with regular stretching.
Stretching also provides a reduced risk of injury. Back to the rubber band scenario, a rubber band that has a lot of flexibility and a lot of give has much less chance of snapping if quickly called upon to stretch. Similarly, if we need to move suddenly, like quickly avoiding an unseen pothole when running or riding, or even in our regular activities of daily living, we are less likely to become injured. A greater existing flexibility and range of motion decreases risk of injury.
Regular stretching also improves posture and alignment. Tight muscles can contribute to poor posture. Think about the activities you do every day, the positions your body assumes on the regular. Stretching helps counteract tightness these positions can cause.
Last, stretching can be used as a great form of stress management. Taking deep, slow breaths as you perform each movement. Clearing the mind as you go.
Dynamic stretching prepares the body for the stress of exercise. Think of dynamic stretching as part of your warm-up, to get the body moving, loosen the muscles, decrease risk of injury, promote circulation and increase blood flow. With dynamic stretching, you perform movements like those in the sport or activity you are about to do, but at a lower intensity. Then, increase speed and intensity throughout your warm-up. Some studies have shown improved athletic performance when dynamic stretching is performed consistently.
A dynamic stretch is not held for any specific length of time and involves movement. A few well-known examples are walking lunges, arm circles, or butt kicks. You might do 15 walking lunges, 20 arm circles (on both arms) and 20 butt kicks before a strength workout.
Stretching is not a once and done. Like putting on weight and then trying to lose that weight, stretching takes time. You won’t increase your flexibility in a day; however, putting it into your daily routine is what does the trick to increase your range of motion. Back to that whole healthy lifestyle thing 😊
Remember, if you have any health concerns or existing injuries, always talk to your doc first, in some cases, stretching may cause further harm.
So, get your stretching in, AME high and do it with a SMILE!