It's funny how most people believe that stretching is something to be done randomly, without a thought and just about anywhere. I have read several articles that recommend stretching as the first thing to do after getting out of bed…do that only if you want muscular injuries or strained ligaments and tendons!
There are many such misconceptions about stretching floating around. Let's tackle two of the most pervasive of them.
Myth: It is good to stretch before an exercise
Never make the mistake of starting your workout with stretches. It can actually slow you down and reduce your muscle strength temporarily. Studies prove that stretching before an endurance activity, like long distance running or walking, actually impairs performance. Besides, it also doesn't guarantee injury prevention. Which stretches you do, and when, depends on the type of activity you are about to perform. But in case of strength training, perform stretches either after the workout for that muscle group is over, or once your entire workout is over.
Remember, the timing for choosing the stretch is important. Stretching on a cold body can almost guarantee injuries.
Myth: Stretching increases strength
Stretching by itself will not make you run faster or increase your strength. However, it can indirectly enhance your performance by making you supple and improving your reaction time depending on the kind of stretches you do.
- Stretch after you finish warm up; this raises your body temperature and prepares you for other activities.
- Hold each stretch for at least eight seconds as only after that, do your muscles relax. Before that they resist the stretch. Ideally, hold for 20 – 60 seconds or till your soreness subsides.
- Don't stretch till the point of pain;—it leads to injuries. You have to be comfortable while stretching.
- Don't stretch after your muscles have cooled down; do it immediately after warm-up or workout.
Difference between stretching and warm-up
A warm-up comprises activities that gradually increase in tempo. The aim is to raise your heart rate, increase blood circulation and improve joint mobility to reduce your chances of injury. Take the treadmill for instance. We start at a slow speed for the first 3–5 minutes and gradually pick up speed.
The purpose of stretching is to improve flexibility and relieve muscle soreness. It involves getting into position, stretching a muscle to its maximum limit and holding it there without further movement.
This was first published in the November 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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