Everyone knows that you should be stretching before and after exercise, but how many people actually do it? I can say I have definitely been guilty of “forgetting” to stretch.
But why should we be stretching; how often and how do we know what type of stretches we should be doing.
So why is stretching important?
You may think stretching is only needed if you are a gymnast or dancer. But the truth is, everyone should be stretching, even if you are not exercising. We need to stretch to protect our mobility and independence, without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then when you do try to move your muscles will be weak and unable to extend all the way which puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
For example, if you have a desk job and are sitting in a chair all day, this can result in tight hamstrings (back of the thigh). Having tight hamstrings will make it harder to straighten your knee all the way which can affect simple tasks such as walking.
Stretching helps keep your muscles flexible, strong and healthy. Stretching before workouts helps loosen up your joints to help range of motion during your workouts and help prevent injury. Stretching after and between workouts can help muscle recovery and to help maintain range of motion through your joints.
The difference between dynamic and static stretching
Dynamic stretches are controlled movements, that prepare the body for exercise by getting it moving to warm up your body, if you have been in the one position too long, or if you are about to do some static stretching without working out beforehand. You don’t hold these stretches.
You can do these before any type of exercise whether it be weight training, running, swimming or a bootcamp, these are not muscle tiring stretches only designed to reduce risk of injury and may improve performance.
- Leg swings
- Arm circles
- Torso twists
- Star jumps
Static stretching is holding a stretch without movement. You do not want to do these before a workout as it only fatigues the muscle. You want to do these at the end of your workouts as part of your cool-down routine and on the days, you aren’t training. If you are doing these on a day you are not training, make sure to do some dynamic stretching first just to warm the muscle up beforehand.
Hold a stretch for up to 45 seconds. Don't bounce, which can cause injury. You should feel tension during a stretch, but you should not feel pain. If you do, there may be an injury or damage in the tissue. Stop stretching that muscle and talk to your doctor.
- Hamstring stretch
- Quadriceps stretch
- Overhead Triceps stretch
- Seated butterfly
- Cobra pose
Using both static and dynamic stretching can help improve your flexibility and mobility which is important in all sports and just in general as we get older.
But you need to remember, stretching needs to happen on a regular basis. Stretching once today wont magically give you flexibility or fix an injury. It takes weeks/months to get flexible and you will have to continue stretching to maintain it.
For more specific rehabilitation or performance activities, you should speak to a health professional qualified in that specific field (such as a physical therapist).