As fitness enthusiasts, we’re constantly seeking ways to enhance our workout routines and achieve optimal results. One often overlooked yet incredibly valuable aspect of any exercise regimen is stretching. Whether it’s in between sets, or after workout, incorporating stretching into your exercise routine can be the game-changer you’ve been looking for.
In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the various types of stretching, go into its myriad benefits, debunk some common myths surrounding its practice, and provide essential do’s and don’ts to ensure you’re getting the most out of your stretches. So, get ready to stretch your boundaries and take your fitness journey to new heights!
Types of Stretches
While stretching is a term that most people use generically, there are different types of stretches:
Ballistic stretching uses momentum to force a body part beyond its normal range of motion — e.g., bouncing, to touch the toes. Ballistic stretching is, however, not recommended for everyone as it can lead to injury.
Dynamic stretching involves moving parts of the body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both — e.g., stretching before aerobics, or martial arts.
Active stretching involves assuming a position and holding it without assistance — i.e., yoga.
Passive stretching involves assuming a position and holding it with the help of another body part — e.g., stretches you do in the gym. Passive stretches help to release spasm and prevent after-work-out soreness.
Isometric stretches involve contracting the muscles without any movement; they are usually a part of physiotherapy.
Dos & Don’ts of Stretching Exercises
Passive stretches are the simplest type of stretches and can be done in-between and after work-out in the gym, or after walking outdoors, or the treadmill, or even after a dance class. Passive stretches give the muscles the rest they need between sets and also help you increase the intensity and duration of your work-out. However, there are certain dos and don’ts you must bear in mind while doing them:
1. Always warm up before stretching
The worst fitness mistake you can make is to start your work-out without a warm up and get right into the stretching mode!
2. Always warm up before you stretch any muscles
Warming up will help you to get your blood circulating. It will also help raise your body temperature slightly, making your muscles more pliable. Stretching without warming up can lead to serious injuries. Warm up by walking on the treadmill or peddling the stationary bike at moderate speed for 5-7 minutes and then start your stretches.
Also read » The Correct Way to Warm-up Before a Workout
3. Hold your stretches
Since we are talking specifically about passive stretches in the gym, you must remember to hold these stretches for a minimum of eight seconds and a maximum of 30 seconds.
4. Don’t bounce
Never do any bouncing movements while stretching. People usually do such stretches while bending forward to touch their toes. This can cause serious harm to your back. Instead of making you more flexible, this type of stretching can sometimes cause serious injury
5. Don’t stretch after your muscles have cooled down
The timing of stretches is extremely important. Most people who go to gyms, waste time after a work-out and remember to stretch only after the work-out is over. Keeping too much of a gap between work-outs and stretching will cause your body to cool down and you might end up hurting yourself. Always do stretching exercises immediately after warm-up, in between your sets or right after your workout — don’t delay it.
6. Don’t over do it; know when to stop
Most physiotherapists are doing brisk business. It’s mainly due to people being overzealous whether at the gym, or in a yoga class. Don’t stretch your muscles till the point of pain. Teach yourself to read your body signals. If a stretch position is making you uncomfortable, stop immediately and rest the muscle till it is back to normal.
What’s the 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.
Benefits of Stretching During and After Workouts
Regular stretching adds value to your fitness goals and helps you experience the following benefits:
1. It increases flexibility and better range of motion to your joints
Flexibility reduces your risk of injuries. Flexible muscles can improve your daily performance. Tasks such as lifting packages, bending to tie your shoes, or hurrying to catch a bus become easier and less tiring. Flexibility tends to diminish as you get older, but you can regain and maintain it with stretching practices.
2. It improved blood circulation
Studies show that stretching increases blood to your muscles. Blood flowing to your muscles brings nourishment and gets rid of waste by-products in the muscle tissue. Improved circulation can help shorten your recovery time if you’ve had muscle injuries.
3. It leads to better posture
Frequent stretching can help keep your muscles from getting tight, allowing you to maintain proper posture. Good posture can minimize discomfort and keep aches and pains away.
4. It provides stress relief
Stretching relaxes tight, tense muscles that often accompany stress. According to a study published in the journal Atención Primaria, even a 10-minute stretching exercise for three months reduced anxiety, burnout, and pain. Yoga, of course, is known for its stress-reducing effects.
5. It enhances co-ordination
Maintaining the full range of motion through your joints keeps you in better balance. Co-ordination and balance will also keep you mobile and less prone to injury from falls, especially as you get older.
2 Big Myths About Stretching Exercises
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 1: 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 2: 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.
From improving flexibility and range of motion to reducing the risk of injuries and muscle soreness, the benefits of incorporating stretching into your routine are undeniable. Remember, taking care of your body through stretching is not just a momentary addition; it is a valuable investment in your long-term health and fitness goals. So, the next time you hit the gym or engage in any physical activity, don’t forget to give your muscles the attention they deserve with a well-rounded stretching routine – your body will thank you for it. Stretch on, and let your fitness journey reach new heights!
This is an updated version of the article that first appeared in the February 2007 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine.
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