Stretching - The 5 Minute Lesson to Better Flexibility
Stretching is one of those things we’ve all been told that we need to do when we work out, yet it’s often thrown to the side and neglected due to time, or if it is done, is simply done improperly.
Major benefits of stretching before and after your workout include:
- Increase your range of motion
- Decreases injury
- Improve circulation
- Reducing muscle soreness.
- Reduce stress
- Enhance athletic performance
- Improve balance
Stretching both before and after your workout can be done several ways, and the type of stretching generally falls into one of 2 categories: static (where you hold a stretch) and dynamic (where you stretch a muscle while moving.) You may have heard that static stretching should only be done AFTER a workout, or to hold a stretch to the count of 10, and so on. There are a lot of myths out there and improper stretching happens all the time. Hopefully this short guide will cover the basics to allow you to add proper flexibility techniques to your workout with confidence.
Static stretching can actually be done both before and after a workout. A myth is that static stretching of muscles that haven’t been “warmed up” can injure them. Static stretching BEFORE a workout is completely fine, and is recommended along with foam rolling if you have tight muscles which can cause pain during a workout (see my previous post on foam rolling for more.) As with foam rolling, when you use static stretching the amount of time holding the stretch is the key to how well it works. A general rule-of-thumb is to hold a stretch for 30 seconds to allow the body to know to relax the muscle. Static stretching before cardio exercise can definitely help improve performance and relieve pain which will allow for a better workout.
The exception: If you are doing strength training, there is evidence that static stretching before lifting can weaken the amount of force the muscle is able to produce so I would suggest using our other method…
Dynamic, or Active, stretching is where the muscles are stretched while moving. This helps to increase blood flow to the area and “warm-up” the muscle to get it ready for exercise. An example would be knee-huggers, where while standing on one leg, the other knee is brought up towards the chest and pulled in to the body, held a moment, and released. This is generally done for 8-10 repetitions and the amount of movement per repetition is slightly increased. If you are a person that doesn’t suffer from muscle imbalances or joint issues, or as mentioned before will be focusing on strength training for your workout, dynamic stretching is best before your workout.
After the Workout
After your workout, a static stretching routine combined with foam rolling can make sure that muscle tightness and soreness don't hit you once your body cools down and ruin the rest of your day (or next several days!) Finally, pay attention to your body's signals and if an area still seems tight the next day stretching it out again can help prevent injury in the long run.
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