Lean down. Grab your ankles. Wait. Hold it. Now repeat.
Does this sound familiar? It’s the sustained stretch that will insure you won’t get sore or injured during a warm up. It has been a mainstay of many exercise routines and rituals. Limber limbs equals safety. Wait for it. Here it comes. There you got it … the cringe.
Beyond feeling more limber, studies published in American College of Sports Medicine Journal and Science in Sports and Exercise, as well as articles in CNN, NBC News, and more have refuted the stretching myths: stretching will prevent soreness and injury. It won’t, actually. But these myths seem to linger and won’t go away.
Stretching doesn’t replace a warm up, and most injuries happen when the muscles are in their normal range of motion. So stretching to origami-lengths isn’t going to prevent anything. In fact, if anything, stretching cold muscles can do more to hurt you than help you. Moreover, static stretches that are sustained for up to a minute can be harmful.
So stop. You can stretch, but know why and how.
Stretching doesn’t replace a warm up: Save stretching for after a warm up – ten or fifteen minutes of walking or jogging. Or, better yet, after exercising when your muscles are warm.
How much? Unless you are a member of the Cirque du Soleil or Academy of Ballet, you’re probably not going to get your leg behind your head. That said, the key is to have both sides balanced – meaning, having an equal amount of flexibility on each side.
Pain does NOT equal Gain: No pain, no gain is probably one of the most irresponsible exercise myths out there. You can feel discomfort. But pain is bad. So when stretching, push your limits to feel tension, but as soon as you feel any pain, you’ve gone too far.
Consistency: Try to stretch a few times a week, focusing on major muscle groups. Remember to stretch both sides equally.
Stretch for a purpose: You might want more range of motion, increased flexibility to reach a ball, or just want to feel the tension eek out of your body. If you do specific stretches depending on your needs (hamstrings for soccer players, rotator cuffs and shoulder movement for swimmers), you can have increased benefits for the sport. Sometimes stretching just feels good, and that’s a positive reason for it.
Yoga and Tai Chi are movement-based stretching techniques that incorporate stretching, muscle strength, meditation and exercise.
Dynamic Stretching: Walking lunges, high knee jogs, swinging arms … all of these stretches are used to warm up. Dynamic stretches focus on movement … not a static, lengthening of muscle. Research shows that soccer players who use dynamic stretches, instead of static, have a better range of motion.
Stretching has some phenomenal outcomes. It’s key, though, to know how stretching is beneficial, when to do it, and never use it to replace a warm up or feel pain. Keep your body, and personal trainer, happy.
Want to know more? Check out these great sources!