Personal trainers will frequently tell you that it’s difficult for clients to stretch on their own. Stretching is often seen as boring, slow paced, and even unnecessary to some. But of all of the workouts and exercises you do, stretching is the most important thing for your body.
As we age, our bodies get tighter. It’s inevitable. Tightness occurs from years of daily physical habits; hunched shoulders will make your chest, neck, and shoulders sore and tight, while general poor posture will eventually affect your lower back. Stretching helps keep your muscles and joints loose. If you don’t stretch after exercising, your joints will ache the next day.
It may come as a surprise to learn that there are three different forms of stretching, each of which will help you get the most out of your workout when applied correctly.
Dynamic stretching (DS) helps the most during a warm up or at the beginning of a workout. This form of stretching involves loosening up the muscles and joints through movement. Rather than holding a position, you move through it. A basic example is walking. As you walk, your leg muscles move, which increases the blood flow to the hip, knee, and ankle joints.
This natural lubrication helps your legs move more efficiently. There are specific dynamic stretches such as leg swings, arm circles, walk outs, and more that can help get your muscles ready to move so you can achieve the most out of your workout.
Static stretching (SS) is most beneficial at the end of a workout, and is typically what comes to mind when thinking about stretching. SS involves holding positions for a certain period of time, activating the Golgi tendon organ (GTO) in the muscle. The GTO’s role is to relax muscles, preventing damage. If your muscles are overstretched by accident (for example, due to an injury) the GTO will stimulate it to relax it and avoid further damage. When you statically stretch, the same organ is activated. For example, sit on the floor with your legs straight and try to touch your toes. When in this sit-and-reach position, the hamstring muscles (on the backs of your thighs) become tense. This tension activates the GTO and causes the muscle to relax even more. Keep static stretching for the end of your session to improve flexibility and reduce aches and pains the next day.
Ballistic stretching (BS) is a very particular form of stretching and is not recommended unless supervised. BS involves moving or bouncing the muscles through a range of motion very rapidly. This style of stretching warms up the muscles faster, so they are ready to work in a shorter time than DS.
However, done incorrectly, you can injure yourself by moving through a range of motion too aggressively before the muscles are ready. This can result in microtears that will inhibit your flexibility and cause pain. Stick to SS or DS unless you really know what you’re doing.
How to stretch
Now you know what type of stretching to do and when, here are some basic guidelines on how to stretch properly.
-Stretching should be uncomfortable, but never painful
-Always maintain good posture, even if you can’t stretch very far
-Hold SS poses for 20-30 seconds
-Apply DS to the relevant muscle groups — i.e. warm up your hips and leg muscles on leg day
-Find one stretch per muscle group (5-6 stretches) and perform them statically each day
-Breath throughout your stretches and focus on relaxing, regardless of discomfort.
Maddy has worked in the health and fitness industry for 5 years. She has a bachelors in Exercise Science and has recently received her Masters in Exercise Physiology. She has worked with a wide demographic of clients as a Personal Trainer and loves helping people reach their goals and continue to grow. She is an outdoor enthusiast and dedicates her workouts to rock climbing, hiking and whatever new experiences may come her way.
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