If you didn’t know it before today… the answer to your burning question of whether or not to stretch is…
YES! Stretching is a MUST!
We’ve all heard that stretching is good for us, along with a nice warm up and cool down, but why?? Why can’t we just plop on the couch after a workout?
WHY should we stretch – Reduce Tightness and Chance of Injury
Our muscles are made up of collagen and elastin–basically elements made to expand and contract without losing their shape. When we put our muscles to use, they get tight from all the contracting and strain we put on them. While eventually this leads to increased strength in our muscles, the immediate effect is a tightness that can be eased by a good stretch. Tight muscles are less elastic and become prone to pulls, and other injuries. Thus, we want to let our muscles release that tension to avoid cramps and similar pains. Our muscles are screaming to be stretched and relaxed. So why not give your body what it’s begging for?!
WHEN should we stretch – Before or After?
There is still a lot of debate about a pre-workout stretch. However, most of the experts agree that a warm up is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to literally heat up the muscles, increase flexibility during the workout and prevent the chance of injury. If you want to stretch before, try active or dynamic stretching (find examples below) before you dive into your workout. This is especially helpful if you’ll be doing some heavy lifting. You want those muscles as flexible as ever so you can be strong as ever!
Post-workout stretching on the other hand is a no-brainer. It is a MUST after any workout. Right after your workout, you should cool down to help your muscles relax (try walking around, marching in place, yoga poses) and then work in some stretches, especially for the muscles that you used in your workout. Just after your workout, your muscles will be nice and HOT, so this is the best time to stretch because they’ll be more flexible! When stretching, you want to hold each stretch for at least 15 seconds while breathing deeply to increase the blood flow to your muscles and release even more tension.
So stretching before is up to you, but after is 100% necessary (according to my research and studies).
How should we stretch- Streeeetchy Ideas for Your Workouts:
Dynamic Stretches – Active stretching, continuous movements that stretch and warm muscles up before your workout
1. Arm Circles: pretend you are drawing huge circles next to your body. Stand with arms extended out to sides (Like you’re spelling ‘T’) and move both arms in circular motions to warm up the shoulders. Try forward and backward circular motions.
2. Toe Touches: Kick right left straight out, extend left arm up, and try to touch your right foot with your left hand. Alternate sides and repeat to stretch and warm up arms, legs, and torso.
3. High Knees: Stand on right leg only, and bring left knee up towards the chest. Hop to left leg and bring right knee into the chest. This is get your blood pumping, and stretch your hips, and legs. *Ab Check!: Tighten those lower abs for a tummy workout.
4. Butt Kicks: Stand on right leg only and drive left heel towards your butt. Hop to the left leg and drive right heel towards butt. This will stretch the hamstrings (back of legs) and give you a nice warm up
**Try to do 10-15 minutes of a warm-up activity before beginning a workout (if pressed for time, aim for 3 minutes at least).
Static Stretches – Helps to reduce muscle tension after a workout, hold each stretch for 15 seconds or more
1. Calf Stretch(es): There are a number of calf stretches out there and I recommend trying them all until you find the one that suits each workout. One of my favorites as a runner is the wall calf stretch. You’ll stand facing a wall with your front leg bent. Press the back toe behind you, with the leg extended. Lower your heel toward the ground to feel the calf stretch. Switch legs and repeat.
Also try the oldie-but-goodie, straight leg calf stretch: sit with both legs extended in front of you with feet flexed (flat heels) and reach arms out to your toes. (Brings back memories from P.E. class!!)
2. Hamstring (back of thigh) Stretch: Stand on left leg. Bring the right heel down to the ground with your toe pointed up. Lower your butt to increase the stretch until you feel it in the back of your thigh. Switch legs and repeat.
3. Quad (Upper front thigh) Stretch: Stand on right leg. Lift left heel up towards the butt. Grab the left foot with which ever hand you can to pull the heel closer to the butt. Do not pull so hard that you feel a pain in your knee.
4. Tricep Stretch: Reach right hand towards the right shoulder blade. Push gently below the elbow to increase the stretch. Switch arms and repeat
5. Chest Stretch: Reach both hands behind the head as though you are lying down. Open the chest as you push your elbows further back.
If you have a difficult workout schedule, in addition to stretching after workouts, you might try a yoga class on your rest day, or take an extended period of time at the end of each week to do a full body stretch routine.
These resources can help you be your stretchiest (and strongest) self!
REMEMBER- ALWAYS warm up…. work out…cool down AND STRETCH
*Keep it moving!
© May 2014