Do you take time to stretch regularly? Most of us understand the importance of regular exercise, but we often neglect flexibility training and stretching. Flexibility is important, especially if you spend most of your day relatively stationary. Reduced flexibility can cause general stiffness, pain, and may lead to a decreased desire to exercise. Not only does regular stretching reduce stiffness in the body, but it helps reduce the possibility of injury and helps you maintain proper range of motion in your joints. Let’s talk about the basics and a few key tips to get the most out of a stretching routine.
When Should You Stretch?
It is a great idea to stretch before exercise, but never stretch before a quick warm-up! Stretching a cold muscle can be just as bad as not stretching at all. Our muscles need blood flow and facilitation before stretching, so that they are more elastic and less likely to be strained. You should perform a minimum of 5 minutes of light jogging, biking, or power walking before stretching.
-Don’t forget to breathe while stretching. For some reason we almost instinctively hold our breath! Make a conscious effort to breathe fully and fluidly. This will also help you relax and get the most out of a stretch.
-Don’t stretch to the point of pain. You will find that no matter what stretch you are doing, there is a window in which you will begin to feel a good stretch that will not create pain. Stretching should not hurt!
-Engage your core muscles during stretching. Core muscle engagement not only encourages you to focus on technique, but also prevents you from compromising other body parts such as your spine. Always keep your posture neutral to avoid hunching over while you stretch, and engage your core to protect your back and neck.
-Length of time you hold a stretch is important. Basic static stretches should be held for about 20-30 seconds, and no more. Any less may not effectively stretch the muscle, and any more may strain it.
-Don’t “bounce” a stretch. The movement of a stretch should be smooth and gradual. There are advanced types of stretching that athletes may use that involve ballistic movement, but should not be used by people just beginning a stretching routine.
-Know when to be cautious about stretching, and when to avoid it. If you have a chronic condition or an acute injury, you may need to adjust your stretching or seek advice. I tend to favor a three day rule- meaning if you have muscle pain or soreness that lasts longer than three days, you probably have an underlying muscle injury. Soreness a day or two after a workout is normal, known as delayed onset muscle soreness. But if that soreness persists, you may have created an overuse injury or compensation pattern that should be addressed. Continuing a running or exercising routine on an injured muscle can lead to further injury!
Remember: Stretching Is Unique To You
It is important to understand that stretching is unique to you. Your age, goals, activity level, etc. will determine what types of stretching you should be doing, and how you should be doing them. It is best to consult with a qualified professional before starting a new stretching routine, like a chiropractor, physical therapist, or your primary doctor. We can properly evaluate you, help you develop an individualized program, and provide instruction on proper technique. Remember that you have your own stretch point: meaning the point at which you feel a stretch, but not pain. Never feel like you have to mimic another person’s stretch point to achieve results.
Make It a Habit!
The old adage “If you don’t use it, you lose it” is certainly true when it comes to flexibility. In order to get the most out of stretching, you should make it a regular part of your routine. Better yet, find a friend or loved one to stretch and exercise with. Setting fitness goals together will help you stay committed for the long run.
If you are interested in beginning a stretching or exercising routine and would like more information specific to you, I would be happy to talk with you. Feel free to send me an email at email@example.com or call at (919) 460-1515. We can talk about your training routine, and how you might be able to improve it.