We are all told we should stretch and we know we should, but why?
Well, first and foremost, stretching is what helps keep us limber. Flexibility helps relieve some of the tight muscle tension we can get, which most people just think of as back pain or shoulder pain, etc. When we stretch, we get better blood flow to the muscles and therefore help nutrients get into the muscles, helping them to repair and grow. Stretching helps keep the muscles nice and long; this is why many people do yoga classes to keep a long lean body. Stretching helps increase your range of motion, so if you are an athlete it can help improve your game. If you are muscle bound or recovering from an injury, it can help to get you back to a normal range of motion. Before you get all gung ho about stretching understand that there are different types of stretches you should use. Let's go over them.
This type of stretching is usually done after a workout and the post workout cool down. At this time, the body is fully warm and the flexibility is at its peak. With static stretches, you want to hold the position without movement. This allows the muscle to slowly go into a deeper stretch and where we get the best gains in our flexibility. If you are doing a static stretch before a workout you should hold them for around 10 seconds (it is better if you do dynamic stretching before a workout). If you are doing a static stretch after a workout your muscles will be nice and warm, you can then hold the stretch for up to 60 seconds.
Examples of a static stretches are:
Toe touch - bending over to reach your toes and holding it is the most understood common form of static stretching. This is a stretch for your hamstrings, you may also feel it in your back.
Holding calf stretch - take a large step back with one leg, bend the front leg as you push your back heel onto the ground. You should feel a stretch in your calf. If you do not, you may need to take a wider step. Do not push yourself so far that you feel pain, it should be slightly uncomfortable.
Hamstring stretch - sit on the ground, bring one foot into the inner thigh of the opposite leg which you will keep straight. Reach the same side arm over the straight leg. You should feel a stretch in the hamstring of your straight leg.
Stretching before you workout is a bit of a controversial topic. Some say it is imperative and some say it is bad. If you are going to stretch before your workout, just make sure you warm up before you do them or during the warm up you can add in some dynamic stretches.
Dynamic stretches are ones that are a fluid movement vs. the stretch and hold method (known as static stretching). They are also what you may have seen many dancers use. The reason we do this is that first off, if we are getting warmed up and then stop to stretch we are cooling back down; so, therefore, we will do a yoyo with warm up, stretch (cool down), warm up, cool down. If we do dynamic stretches, we are prepping the body for our workout without cooling down and stretching the body out so that we have less risk of pulling muscles. Make sure when you do dynamic stretching that you are smooth and controlled. Avoid ballistic (bouncing) stretches.
Some examples of dynamic stretches are:
The Glute Walk- In the process of your walk, put your left hand on your left knee and right hand on your left ankle, then pull both in towards your chest. Take a step and repeat on the other leg.
The Knee Hug- While walking forward, hug one knee into your chest, then step and repeat on the other leg, continuing with alternate legs. This is a good way to warm up the glutes and hips.
Leg Swings- Swing your left leg forward while keeping it straight, and then swing it backwards while bending the knee. Attempt to kick your own butt with the back swing. This should be a fluid movement. Do this 10 times on one leg and then do the right side. If you need the balance, hold onto something while performing this motion.
Arm Swings- Swing arms forward around the chest and backwards stretching the chest out. You have probably seen people in the gym doing this before they prepare to do a chest fly or reverse fly. This is to stretch out the back and chest and also tends to hit the shoulders as well.
There are so many dynamic and static stretches and there are varieties for different ways you will be working your body. The examples above are just to give you an idea of what they are.