Are you stretching correctly?

I am not a very good stretcher.  I think it takes too long and is kind of boring.  People tell me all the time how unsafe it is to exercise without stretching first, but unless I'm doing a video that includes a warm up in the routine, I really don't do it.  And when I collapse just inside my front door after a long run hoping  to die, I am reminded, "Don't forget to stretch.  Your muscles need it."  At that point, all I want to do is take a hot shower and crawl into bed for about 5 hours.  So, imagine my delight when I stumbled upon this article while researching the benefits of stretching before exercising!  

 

The gist of the article is that some experts are now saying that static stretching (stretching while the body is at rest) before a workout can actually make your muscles tighten instead of relax which makes you more likely to pull a muscle.  According to Wikipedia, static stretching creates instability in your joints and can slow your explosive responsiveness.  So, basically you are weaker and slower.

 

For those of you who, like me, don't like to stretch - don't start celebrating yet!  It's still very important to stretch in order to increase your flexibility, but the best time to do it is AFTER your workout or at the end of your day.

 

I want to be clear that I am NOT saying you shouldn't stretch or warm up your muscles before you exercise.  You definitely SHOULD warm up before busting out an intense workout.  The article above suggests "warming up with a light jog or sport-specific exercise, like kicking for football or a few serves for tennis.  That type of light movement increases the heart rate and blood flow to the muscles, warming up the body temperature.  'This allows you to approach your full range of motion, but in a very controlled way' (Dr. Anders Cohen)."  This type of stretching is call Dynamic Stretching.  "Dynamic stretching consists of a series of exaggerated yet controlled motions similar in nature to the activity that follows." (athletics.wikia.com) and there are several benefits to including this in your exercise plan... 

 

  1. Warms your muscles:  When you are continuously moving, your muscles' core temperature goes up.  That's exactly what you want to happen in order to make those muscles more elastic and powerful.  On the other hand, too much static stretching before you head out the door can actually drop your muscles' core temperature leaving you at greater risk for injury or pain.  
  2. Makes you "game ready":  Dynamic stretching gets your muscles set up to function a certain way.  When you start a run with a slow jog, all the muscles you'll be using when you speed up are being warmed up.  The same is true when you're participating in a sport.  The muscles that you're going to want explosive action from are the ones you're prepping which means they'll be ready when you are.  That doesn't happen with static stretching.  
  3. Preps you mentally.  While you're getting warmed up for a run or a game, you're thinking about and practicing for the actual activity.  I don't know about you, but when I am static stretching, my mind wanders and starts to tune out to what my body is doing which it can't do if I'm actively engaging my body.
  4. Gives you better range of motion:  This is huge!  No one wants to deal with injury and/or pain.  Forcing your muscles to move quickly and powerfully when they're not properly warmed up can easily lead to injury.  Increasing your flexibility minimizes those risks.  

 

I was pleasantly surprised that most the articles I found regarding this subject agree that the yoga-type stretching (ex: when you bend over to touch your toes or stretch a muscle until it's painful and then hold it) is very effective if you are wanting to increase your flexibility.  It is appropriate to do those moves AFTER a workout, but never before.   I guess that doesn't give me permission to lay like a bump on a log for 25 minutes after a long hard run while my carpets soak up my sweat, BUT it does free me from the tediousness of standing around stretching before that run!!!  (Small victory!!)

 

 

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October 18 2016

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