Is stretching really good for you? If so, when and how should you do it? First, we should distinguish between two types of stretching: dynamic and static. Dynamic stretching consists of controlled leg and arm swings that take you (gently) to the limits of your range of motion. Static stretching means a stretch is held in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, usually somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds.
Current research states that it is best to do dynamic stretching before a workout but once your muscles are warm and save static stretching for after a workout. Why is stretching important? It helps increase flexibility and improve the range of motion in your joints. This becomes increasingly important for those of us that remain in seated positions for extended periods of time throughout the day, be it sitting at a desk or in the car doing errands and carpool. Stretching can help improve posture and alleviate back pain. It can also reduce the severity or duration of soreness you feel after a workout.
So what types of stretches should we do? You should warm up by doing dynamic stretches, which are like your workout but at a lower intensity. A good warm-up before a run could be a brisk walk, walking lunges, leg swings, high steps, or “butt kicks” (slowly jogging forward while kicking toward your rear end).
After your workout, while your muscles are warm (due to increased circulation) is when you will achieve the most benefit from static stretching. This will allow you to maintain and/or increase your flexibility. Stretching also allows you a chance to do a full body muscle inventory. Check to see if you are tighter on one side than the other. If certain muscles were taxed more during your workout than others. If you had a really strenuous arm day, you should give those muscles an opportunity to recover while focusing your next workout on another muscle group. Who wants to look like this guy?
This inventory will give you a chance to head off potential injuries. Notice if you are feeling more fatigue on one side of your body. If your quads are really tired after a run but your hamstrings don’t feel like they’ve gotten a workout, make sure to check your form when you are running. If your right leg is cramping and tight but your left leg feels great check to see if you are compensating for a latent injury or perhaps even your running surface. You’d be surprised the impact a crowned road can have on your body if you run the same route over and over! Bottom line, think about what happens when you’re tight somewhere in your body. If you have tight muscles, other parts of your body step in to compensate for those tight areas. That means two things: 1. You’re not getting the most that you can from that exercise and, 2. If you keep doing it that way, you can end up with a repetitive stress injury.
• You should be thoroughly warmed up before performing these exercises
• Stretch to just before the point of discomfort
• The feeling of tightness should diminish as you hold the stretch
• Breathe out into the stretch. Avoid breath holding
• Hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds
• If tightness intensifies or you feel pain stop the stretch
• Shake out limbs between stretches
• Complete 2-3 stretches before moving onto the next exercise