Stretching! Has any topic in exercise been debated at such length? Should you or shouldn’t you? Before or after? Bouncing or not? I know suggestions have changed drastically since I began my athletic career in high school, and I’m only 40.
Many studies have concluded that dynamic stretching combined with a short warm-up before exercise and static stretching after activity is beneficial. It improves performance and decreases the possibility of injury.
I know I feel fresher and less sore when I stretch compared to when I don’t. I always reserve the last 5 to 10 minutes of all my training sessions for stretching. Let’s face it, it feels good, lowers your heart rate, and combined with deep breathing, increases your sense of well-being. Who wouldn’t want that?
Here are guidelines for safe and effective stretching:
- Static stretching is not part of a warm-up. If you threw rubber bands into ice water and then pulled on them hard, what would happen? They would snap! The same thing can happen to your tendons when you hold a static stretch with a cold muscle. Begin your workout with easy jogging or stationary cycling for 5 to 10 minutes before beginning dynamic stretching.
- Dynamic stretching before and static stretching after. You can use the same stretches before and after a workout. Just do the dynamic (constantly moving) before and static (holding for 20 seconds) after.
- Do not bounce. When I was in college, my roommates and I did the Cindy Crawford VHS-tape workout practically every day. And boy did Cindy bounce! We were college students, and we were so sore from that tape. We thought we were out of shape but the truth is, the bouncing was doing us in. Bouncing causes micro tears in your muscles. Tears create scar tissue, which makes you less flexible and can cause pain. Bouncing while stretching can cause more tightness and pain than you would experience without stretching.
- Stretching for athletic performance should not hurt. If your physical therapist or AT is stretching you during rehabilitation, there may be times you need to push through pain. When my PT stretched my post-surgical hand, it hurt like no one’s business some days. Stretching for athletic performance is a release. It is not punishment for a past-life crimes! If you are feeling anything beyond mild tension, you are taking it too far.
- Stretch on a regular basis. I have heard every excuse in the world why people do not stretch. The top excuses are lack of time and pain. I promise you that if you stretch at least 2 to 3 times a week, you will be able to push yourself harder and farther while working out. You will have increased range of motion and will not have struggle with relative flexibility (poor posture). The human body is very crafty. It seeks the path of least resistance during exercise due to tight muscles. Stretching will keep your body aligned and reduce the risk of injury.