I’m naming this post the art of stretching because through the years watching people stretch, I have come to the conclusion that it must be an art. What is art? Art can partially be defined as the application of human creativity and expression. I have seen a lot of people stretch using many methods, applying their creativity, and very much expressing themselves.
You have the bounce stretch, common when stretching the hamstring where the person will bounce back and forth using their upper body. Very dangerous and most likely to cause an injury. I have seen people literally beating their leg muscles with their fists while stretching. This must be part of the ‘aggressive expressionist art’ movement. When I saw this, I was so surprised/shocked? I didn’t know what to say. Another common one is the stretch which really isn’t. An example is the cross shoulder stretch to stretch the posterior deltoid where the arm is kind of hanging there, not really parallel with the ground, and really no tension on the muscle.
I’m not poking fun here at all, believe me. These are things I see. Like most times when people use incorrect technique, they have been shown how to stretch, but they have never been shown how to stretch properly. The have the best intentions, mostly, but lack the knowledge.
This article isn’t going to talk about how to do each stretch, that would take too long, and that is why there are personal trainers. What I want to do is focus on the benefits of stretching, and how to execute a stretch, regardless of what muscle you are stretching.
Exactly, why should we take the time to stretch, and it does take time, hopefully ten minutes at the end of your workout. Like the cool down or the warm up, stretching seems to be one of those things that does not get the attention it deserves. So maybe after reading this post, you will see the benefits of stretching, and give it the respect it deserves.
Benefits (not all of them):
• with stretching comes a wider range in motion, which then reduces risk of injury
• Releases tension developed during the workout
• Improves posture
• Reduces risk of injury due to muscles being more pliable
• Improves performance of everyday activity as well as performance in exercise and sports
• Helps you carry out day to day activities with less discomfort
• Improved quality of life
Ok. I want you to read the benefits again. Reduces risk of injury. Improves performance. Improves performance. Reduces risk of injuries.
Maybe I’m being a bit of a jerk by repeating, and repeating, but these 2 benefits are huge! Think of these benefits when next time you are contemplating passing on your stretching routine.
Static and Dynamic Stretching
Most of us are probably familiar with static stretching. This is where we hold the stretch, not moving any limbs or bending at any joints. An example would be sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, bending forward at the hip, trying to reach your toes (a common hamstring stretch). The purpose of static stretching is to improve flexibility, increase range of motion by lengthening the muscles. Static stretching should be done at the end of your workout, when the muscles are warm, and tight. When static stretching, it is very important to hold the stretch for at least 20 – 30 seconds, so you can overcome the stretch reflex (the automatic tightening of a muscle when stretched). Ease into the stretch, and hold the stretch gently, feeling tension on the muscle, but no pain. If you can hold the stretch for 60 seconds, even better! Do this 2 to 3 times for each muscle group being stretched.
Dynamic stretching is using motion such as swinging your arms or legs, working within the full range of motion of a joint, but not exceeding it. An example would be to swing your arms back and forth across your chest, like you are hugging yourself. When performed correctly, dynamic stretching warms up the joints, maintains your current level of flexibility, and reduces muscle tension. With each motion, start slowly, and gradually increase speed and intensity. Unlike static stretching, it is recommended to perform dynamic stretching before exercise or activity that is movement based. Dynamic stretching is very beneficial for people involved in sport like activities that require a wide range of motion, and speed. Combining static and dynamic stretching can prepare the joints for explosive movements more than either one alone.
When dynamic stretching, it is very important that you understand the movement that you are doing. Have a personal trainer work with you on dynamic stretching. You may experience small trauma over time in the joints or connective tissue (tendons, ligaments) if you go through a range of motion that is too extreme, or executing movements that are too fast. Train smart!
• Work within your limits. Just like my previous article that talks about not getting caught up in numbers, you are your competition, not the person next to you.
• Breathe comfortably. Exhale as the muscle lengthens
• Ease into the stretch. Don’t compromise your posture. Let the muscle gently stretch.
• Don’t bounce
• Work with warm muscles as they lengthen easier, and are less prone to injury. A good time is right after your cardio training
• Listen to and know your body. Abandon a stretch if you can’t execute it properly due to limitation such as hips, back, etc. Look for another stretch that will focus on that muscle group.
• Be relaxed and calm when stretching. If you can, do your stretching in an area that is conducive to relaxation, not right next to the studio that is running the spin class, cranked up 160 beats per minute music playing.
• Stretch each muscle group for complete body improvement
• Unlike resistance training, where the muscles need time to repair, stretching can be done 7 days a week.
When I was working out today, I was working through my mind, trying to get a better understanding of why we don’t take the time to stretch. Is it because we don’t get that feeling that we are doing something that benefits our fitness and health? Maybe it’s because it can be a passive process, unlike resistance training, or cardio training. I think sometimes when holding a stretch, we get anxious, ready to move to the next part of our day. After all, stretching is the last part of our workout, the part before we head out of the gym, back to the rest of our day. Maybe if stretching was at the beginning of our workout, more people would do it. I once heard of an idea for a gym that you only pay when you don’t go, an interesting idea on how to incentivize people into working out.
Maybe that’s it! Every time you leave your workout without stretching, you pay a somewhat substantial penalty, $20 – $30. You know, not that it’s like we end up paying the penalty anyway, what was one of those benefits to stretching again? Oh yeah, reduce risk of injury. Either way you’re going to pay. It’s just a matter of what currency you end up using.
Yours in health,