Is it really that important to stretch?
The short answer is yes, there are reasons why stretching is such an important part of general fitness. There are also reasons why you should take stretching more seriously than you probably have up until now.
When you speak to athletes and people who are familiarizing themselves with the fitness world, you’ll hear that they recommend stretching. It’s probably a bit hard to believe, but we don’t actually need to stretch very often as an adult. Our bodies are designed to be able to move and perform all of the activities we need to do on a daily basis, and this may have somehow tricked most of us into thinking that it’s not necessary to stretch.
But here’s the thing; stretching is actually high on the list of things you need to do to maintain an active lifestyle and good health. This is because stretching can improve muscle efficiency, flexibility, and ranges of motion, which plays a huge part in the ability of your body to perform daily functions.
Essentially, this can mean two things. Firstly, stretching helps promote prevention of injuries and body pain by allowing your muscles to move through their full range of motion. It also helps in prevention of joint pain by increasing the range and strength of your joints.
The thinking Mans (or woman’s) stretch
This is simple. You stand up straight, stretch to your maximum, and hold that position for about twenty seconds. This is the #1 recommended type of stretch for any fitness objective, physical, mental, or spiritual. It’s just good sense.
This is boring and tiresome for long workout sessions, but you should go ahead and do it before any physically demanding activity, and then hold for a moment or two after the activity.
To Stretch or Not to Stretch?
If your workout involves any repetitive motion, then don’t stretch beforehand. This advice stands even if you’re just stretching for therapeutic reasons. People who do the same motion over and over, such as long distance runners, definitely need to focus on strengthening the muscles used the most so that the repetitive movement does not cause any further damage. The muscles need to be strong enough to be able to handle the repetitiveness of the activity.
This applies to any sport. There is nothing worse than an athlete who completely ices their body down prior to a game, just to feel the pain after the first few minutes of play.
Some studies have shown that stretching can actually increase your chances of injury. There are even a couple of sports pundits who believe that stretching may actually reduce your performance to less than half of its original potential.
If you have suffered an injury, click here >.
Mobility? Why am I hearing all this talk about mobility?
Mobility, aka flexibility, is the range of motion around a joint. The more flexible your joints are, the easier it is for you to move around because the ligaments that surround a joint are expanded. As they are stretched, your muscles and ligaments become more malleable and flexible. This requires a full range of motion around your joints, and it allows you to more efficiently use your muscles.
You may have heard of stretching in the past, but did you know that there are actually several different types of stretching, each of which targets different components of your mobility and flexibility?
For overall joint mobility, you want to use a combination of static, ballistic, and dynamic exercises. Static stretching is the Holy Grail that most people talk about. It’s also the most misunderstood. Due to the misconception created by what you’ve heard in the past, it’s one of the most underused types of stretching. To clear things up, let’s look at a few myths surrounding static stretching and underappreciated benefits of static stretching.
Let’s Get Rid of the Static Stretching Myths
Myth: All Flexibility Exercises Must Be Static to Be Effective
How Long should I stretch?
The amount of time you should spend stretching in order to attain optimal results really depends on your situation.
If you are a beginner, you need only perform the stretches for a short window, since it will take time to build up those muscles.
For more advanced situations, like when you have gained considerable muscle mass, you may find you need to stretch for much longer periods to really make a difference.
As far as the time commitment you make once you are ready to start stretching, the general rule of thumb is to stretch for at least ten minutes per workout.
If you are able to, you may even want to increase this window and work to hit the one to two hours that experts recommend.
You need to be patient, however, and not rush through your stretching routine.
For one, this is almost undoubtedly going to lead to you holding the stretch too long, which may end up causing you harm.
Taking your time through the stretches is also recommended because you may find that you do not quite get to the point you want to during the stretches, but when you stop and relax, you can push yourself that little bit further.
This is one of the easiest ways to get a better stretch out of your workout, because it spans across both the mind and spirit, with you getting a better stretch both physically and mentally as you work.
Why everyone needs to just relax!
To avoid injury and discomfort during exercise, it’s important to warm-up your body. The best way to do this is to spend a few minutes slowly increasing the range of motion of each joint. This is known as dynamic stretching, and it’s a great way to prepare your body for more vigorous activity.
When it comes to dynamic stretching, the most common form of stretching is known as PNF stretching. This is short for progressive muscle relaxation.
PNF stretches have been shown to increase the number of muscle proteins known as titin, which controls muscle flexibility. It also enhances muscle elasticity and reduces the proteins that cause muscle stiffness.
PNF stretching is short for progressive muscle relaxation. The method involves exercising particular muscle groups and then holding them in an extended position.
In addition to dynamic stretching and PNF stretching, there are other forms of stretching that can help you with your flexibility. Static stretching used to be popular in the fitness industry, but that trend has since been replaced by other forms of stretching.
What Are Static Stretches?
The basic premise behind stretching before every exercise is that it makes you more flexible and reduces the risk of injury. Static stretching involves holding and extending certain muscle groups for 10 to 30 seconds. It can be effective in helping you achieve the goal of being more flexible and reducing your chances of injury.
Tools of the Trade: Flex stretch bands, lacrosse balls
Swiss balls, and foam rollers can all help you to implement effective stretches and flexibility training into your exercise regimen.
While doing stretches lying down may seem much easier than doing them from a standing position, you’re actually more likely to get hurt doing them lying down. Some studies have shown that static stretches done while lying down can increase your risk of injury by causing the hip muscles to tighten.
That being said, static stretches are a good way to warm up before exercise, so make sure you do that before you go on to the other stretches we recommend.
If you want to start getting stretching into your daily habits, start with the following stretches on either side of the body.
Shoulder/Neck Stretch: This stretch is great for opening up the shoulders and the neck. You can do this stretch while standing, or lying down.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Brace your abs and press your hips forward.
- Keep your back straight, and tilt your head forward to drop your chin towards your chest, pointing your ear to your shoulder.
- Push your head forward, and then pull your chin in as far as you comfortably can.
- Hold it there for around 5 seconds, and then release.
Flex resistance bands
Stretching with flex band resistance bands is the most adaptable and versatile form of stretching that you can do. It can be done many different ways and for many different reasons.
With flex bands, you can have endless different variations of stretching exercises you can do. Whether you want to do a wide variety of exercises or you just want to have many options available whenever you’re stretching, flex bands are the way to go.
In fact, one of the problems that some people have with other kinds of stretching, such as yoga, is that they inevitably have to focus on the body’s most flexible areas, which can be detrimental to their goals. Flex bands, however, can be utilized many different ways so you can have the benefits of a wide range of stretching exercises, without leaving any of your body’s most powerful muscles, such as your legs, neglected.
In terms of using resistance bands for flexibility, a lot of people complain that they’re not flexible because they’re using too much resistance. The truth is that you’re probably using too much resistance if you’re experiencing pain during your stretching session, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be careful with the resistance you’re using.
For General Fitness?
You obviously do not need to be a professional athlete to need to do some stretching, and professionals actually need to do it more than the regular population.
A study that was done at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation even found that a lot of major athletes do stretching incorrectly. The most common error is overstretching.
The next time you find yourself stretching, ask yourself this question: is my body getting more flexible or is my nervous system learning to anticipate and avoid pain?
If the latter, your stretching could cause you to lose flexibility and could potentially cause injuries. In order to make sure that your stretching is safe, you need to do the following:
- Maintain control at all times
- Avoid pushing through the pain
- Never bounce (bouncing causes overstretching)
Generate power by pushing and pulling against your resistance (the wall, your leg, etc.)
Strive to Increase Your Range of Motion
Resist the urge to get your muscles to contract at the same time you’re trying to stretch them.
What You Need to Do before and after Stretching
Stretching is a crucial part of physical activity for a lot of reasons. Doing it properly after a long hike up a mountain or before the sprint during a track event can help keep you healthy and injury-free.
Stretching is an incredibly powerful tool if you incorporate it properly into a fitness regime and use it for the purpose it was intended.
The most recommended form of general strength and flexibility training is the combination of static and flexibility training.
It’s important to keep in mind that the static and flexibility training should be alternated, as rapid adjustments in temperature can negatively impact the effectiveness of the flexibility training.
The static stretching part of the strength and flexibility training can be performed before, during, or after the activity, but it’s generally recommended to hold static stretches for at least 30-60 seconds to maximize their effectiveness.
However, those with more knowledge and experience in flexibility training can, and should, hold each stretch for as long as they are able.
The flexibility training should be performed after the static stretching has been performed since holding static stretches can increase muscle temperature.
However, again if the flexibility training is being performed by someone with expertise it can be performed before the static stretching.
As you can see, there are a lot of benefits to doing some basic flexibility training, and doing these exercises regularly will translate to healthier and happier bodies that are better prepared to deal with the day-to-day stresses of life.