When it comes to health and fitness, there are many different components that we have to dedicate our time and attention to. While we may really hone in on some such as our nutrition or training, for most, stretching is the aspect most ignored.
I’m not going to lie, I certainly give stretching the short end of the stick as well! BUT, I know just how important it is for the body, and I’ve been trying harder and harder not to neglect it.
What about you?? Are you in a similar boat? Are you shortchanging your stretching?
Stretching keeps the muscles healthy, flexible, and strong. It lengthens them, allowing the muscles to extend all the way when called upon for activity and lowering our risk of strains and muscle damage. Stretching also helps the joints maintain a full range of motion (ROM), making it less likely for you to experience joint pain.
This isn’t just important for gym-goers, runners, or active people, though! Stretching is necessary for everyday life to avoid everyday aches and pains from everyday activities! For example, take a simple activity such as sitting in a chair all day: Doing this can lead to tight hamstrings which can make it difficult to extend the legs or knees all the way. In turn, this inhibits walking and may result in muscle and joint damage, as well as falls. Frequent stretching will loosen those muscles affected by chair sitting and prohibit the joints and muscles from tightening up.
In regards to my gym-goers, runners, and active people: those of you doing these more strenuous activities on tight muscles are setting yourselves up for trouble. That's because tight muscles can become very easily damaged as your given activity causes them to suddenly stretch. This exertion puts too much force on the muscles leading to injury, and the newly injured muscles may no longer be able to support the joints-- consequently causing muscle and joint damage and pain. Again, being well-stretched loosens and prepares the muscles to handle both movement and the stretching that takes place during such movement.
Which kind of stretches?
You may already know that you need to be stretching, but just knowing that alone isn’t enough! When it comes to stretching, there are some hard and fast rules for what to do and when to do it, and it all starts with understanding the two different types of stretching: static and dynamic.
Static stretches are stationary holds. They isolate one muscle group at a time with the goal of releasing tension, making muscles more supple and less susceptible to pulls and strains.
Static is the more traditional form of stretching. It is part of the routine you learned in high school gym class-- quad stretches, bent over toe touch holds, arm-across-chest shoulder stretches, etc...all being held until a point of discomfort for about 30-60 seconds each.
These stretches elongate the muscles to increase flexibility.
Dynamic stretches are active. They involve the movement of more than one muscle group and take the body through a near-full range of motion, never exceeding it, to better prepare the muscles for the activity ahead.
When you hear “dynamic stretching”, think “active warm-up”. The stretches involved in this mimic the same moves you go through while exercising with the goal of priming the body for action.
Dynamic stretching warms up your muscles' core temperatures correctly by focusing on mobility and eccentric movements (the part of the movement where you’re elongating the muscle) .
Static VS. Dynamic
All stretches are important, we understand that much. The catch is understanding when to do certain stretches.
When it comes to static stretching, it is highly recommended to hold (get it?) off on doing these until the end of your workouts. This is because static stretching relaxes muscles and reduces blood flow. Research has shown that this then decreases strength and explosive power in any exercises done directly after. This form of stretching before activity can actually cause injuries rather than prevent them!
Instead, focus on dynamic stretches prior to a workout. These stretches boost blood flow and activate the CNS (central nervous system) in a way that can enhance strength, power, and flexibility/ROM.
Follow this link for more dynamic stretching info: https://instagram.com/p/BhCzG9VlZry/
Our bodies have many mechanisms that need to be activated in order to do physical activity. Putting them through series of active stretches sends signals from our brains to our connective tissues and muscle fibers, telling them, “Hey, get ready for this...we’re gonna work!”. These moving stretches then raise our body temperatures and blood gets pumped to the working muscles (this is crucial for our actual workouts as that blood flow helps supply those areas with energy to perform the upcoming work). Once the dynamic stretches are said and done with (about 5-10 minutes later) the body and CNS are primed to take on heavy loads and/or perform explosive movements.
That’s not to say there is no need for static stretching, though! Immediately following a workout, static stretching is very beneficial. It helps lengthen muscles back out and reduce the lactic acid build-up often caused by a weight-lifting session or intense workout, relieving tension and relaxing the body. As well, like dynamic stretching, practicing static stretching can improve flexibility and mobility. However, unlike dynamic stretching, it does not raise your body temperature and suppresses the CNS-- thus relaxing muscles (and reducing their power and force performance-- hence why it's a no-go for preworkout). Not to mention, static stretching is one of the most simple forms of stretching, perfect for all ability levels. This makes it ideal for a post-workout cool-down or rest day activity!
Follow this link for more static stretching info: https://instagram.com/p/BYI5_U7lvQC/
There’s a time and a place for everything, and stretching is no exception! Even if it’s just 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching at the start of a workout and 5-10 minutes of static at the end of a workout or end of a workday, stretching is something where a little bit can go a long way.
Quit neglecting this crucial aspect of your health and fitness, and start giving it the attention it deserves!