THE IMPORTANCE AND BENEFITS OF STRETCHING

IMAGE CREDIT: FIERCE GRACE BRIXTON

IMAGE CREDIT: FIERCE GRACE BRIXTON

Stretching… a concept that all athletes know, but are we doing it correctly and maximizing our results? Through some compiled research on the topic with opinions from doctors, physical therapists, and our very own trainers here at Balance, let’s find out!

Different Types of Stretching

First of all, there are two major categories of stretching, classified as Dynamic and Static, that can be utilized in different ways at different times:

 Dynamic- is a form of stretching beneficial in sports utilizing momentum from form, and the momentum from static-active stretching strength, in an effort to propel the muscle into an extended range of motion not exceeding one’s static passive stretching ability.

Static- is a form of stretching that is held in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, usually between 10 to 30 seconds.  It is considered to be safe and effective for improving overall flexibility.

 

Benefits of Stretching

Increased flexibility and joint range of motion: Flexible muscles can improve your daily performance in workouts, as well as everyday tasks such as lifting a heavy box or bending down to pick something up.

 Improved circulation: Stretching increases your body’s blood flow to your muscles, which brings nourishment and gets rid of waste byproducts in muscle tissue.  Improving your circulation can help decrease recovery time after an injury.

Better posture: Frequent stretching can prevent your muscles from getting tight, allowing you to maintain proper posture, which can minimize discomfort, aches and pains.

Stress relief: Stretching relaxes tense muscles that often accompany stress.

Enhanced coordination: Maintaining a full range of motion in your joints improves your balance, which will keep you active and less prone to injury from falls, especially as you get older.

*There are plenty of benefits that come along with daily stretching. If stretching isn’t something that is part of your regular daily routine, it is never too late to implement it! Results in flexibility and mobility won’t be immediate, but with time and consistency you will begin to see results.

 

Proper Stretching Technique

Warm up first: Stretching muscles when cold can increase your risk of pulling one- warm up by taking a brisk walk while gently pumping your arms.

 Hold each stretch for maximum 30 seconds: It takes time to lengthen tissues safely, so it is important to pay attention to the timing. For most of your muscle groups, if you hold the stretches for about 30 seconds, you’ll only need to do each stretch once.

 Focus on a pain-free stretch: If you feel pain as you are stretching, you’ve gone too far.  Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.

 Relax: Breathe freely and remember to not hold your breath when while you are stretching.

 Stretch both sides: Make sure your joint range of motion is as equal as possible on each side of your body.

 Stretch before and after activity: Light stretching after your before your warm-up followed by a more thorough stretching regimen after your full workout.

 

Pre-Workout Stretching

The most common reasons for including stretching as part of your pre fitness and performance routine:

Relief from cramping

Improved range of motion

Decrease in potential injury

Decrease in muscle soreness

 

How should I stretch before my workout in order to feel my best and maximize my results?

For a long time, Static stretching before a workout was looked down upon in the fitness world due to its apparent undesirable effects that inhibited one's ability to generate power in activities that involved jumping, leaping, and high-intensity sprinting.  As further research has been conducted however, very few negative impacts have been correlated with Static stretching as long as the stretch is held for shorter amounts of time (less than 30 seconds).  In fact, those who implement Static stretching for about 5 minutes, accompanied with several minutes of jogging or other warm-up activities, are significantly less likely to strain or tear muscles during their main workout.

Dynamic stretching properly can have a significant benefit to your athletic performance.  It is can accomplish many things: increasing blood flow, range of motion, joint position, and improve your athletic performance. It can focus on many different muscle groups at the same time, a thorough movement- your arms and legs can perform different movements and warm up simultaneously.  If done correctly Dynamic stretching will also rise your heart rate as blood flow is increased. This form of pre-workout stretching has become a necessary part of warm-up for most athletes, especially professional.  


*The form of Static stretching mentioned above is highly recommended for athletes who are planning to participate in sports or other activities that involve leaping, sprinting, and forceful, potentially muscle-ripping movements. Athletes who plan on going on a run or biking do not necessarily have to implement Static stretching beforehand, a brief warm-up jog is usually enough.

 

Post-Workout Stretching

Athletes will benefit from the results mentioned above when stretching after a workout.  By taking the time to Static stretch after a workout, some positive effects include:

Increased flexibility and range of motion: One of the main benefits of stretching in gaining flexibility, which is necessary to reduce tension and elongate constricted muscles.  If you keep up a consistent stretching routine, your range of motion will increase, allowing your muscles to be working at their maximum capacity for your next workout.

Injury prevention: Having flexible muscles can prevent acute and overuse injuries. It will also prevent soreness after working out.

Higher energy levels: You always get tired after a good exercise session, but you’ll notice that after post-workout stretching your energy levels will be higher.  When your body cools down, your brain will release endorphins which will make you feel overall more energized and happier.

Muscle tone: Post-workout stretching can help tone your muscles by not only preparing them for the next workout, but you’ll also notice that your muscles look more slender and toned.

Eliminate lactic acid: You need to stretch in order to eliminate the accumulated lactic acid and relax your muscle.

 

Ask the Experts

Trainer and athlete Alex Stoddart talked to me about her pre and post workout routines, she said, “Stretching is always a very important thing to incorporate in your daily workout routine. I always find a way to incorporate a dynamic stretching routine before my workout in order to get my blood pumping and my heart rate up.  After my workout I will do a static ground-based routine to properly stretch my Psoas, hip flexors, hamstrings, and lengthen my spine.”

A Balance Resource Article by Addy Campbell

Balance Intern and Senior at Germantown Academy

Kaitlyn Renzi