When I was in PT school, I had an instructor refer to me as ‘Dr. Stretch’ due to the fact that everybody loved after their workouts when I would stretch them. Even now with my clients, I always stress how important stretching is, especially as we age. Why doesn’t everybody do it then, know that we all age and become more rigid in our memories if we don’t stretch?
There are many schools of thought on the subject and the answers you get vary from trainer to trainer because for different activities, there are different ways of stretching and making your body more flexible. I want you to think of your muscles like rubber bands for a moment. The more you use rubber bands, the more pliable and flexible they become. Newer ones tend to break due to non-usage. It’s a terrific comparison because it’s exactly what happens to our muscles if we don’t stretch the kinks out, live primarily sedentary lives or experience muscle atrophy due to immobilization from an accident or illness. All this being said, there’s literally 10’s of 100’s of stretches that can be done before as well as after your workouts.
First are static stretches. These types of stretches involve holding a position to assist with releasing tension and increasing range of motion over time. There are also dynamic stretches, which are the exact opposite of the previous ballistic ones in terms of holding the stretch. Dynamic stretches involve performing controlled movements through a larger range of motion. These exercises often help to warm up our muscles before a workout to prevent rigid movements and keep muscles from ‘locking up’.
Another type of stretch are ballistic stretches. This type of stretch is more aggressive, bouncing consistently moving into an end range of motion. The last stretch is called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation or PNF for short. PNF stretches are performed by a practitioner and not usually for the general public unless you are dealing with post-injury pain or some sort of body structural discomfort.
No matter which stretching type you do, there are universal benefits to all of them. Stretching improves you flexibility, makes day-to-day activities a lot easier, helps calm your body after exercise and decrease your risk of injury, just to name a few. These are just the physical benefits though. There’s also a slew of mental health benefits from stretching as well. Stretching helps you relax and is also a form of self-care because not only are you releasing discomfort in the body, you also take time out of your day to connect with your body. Stretching also helps you to end your workouts on a more positive note. When you’re performing difficult exercises that require 100% of you physically and mentally, stretching helps you to relax and dissociate yourself from the workout you just completed and help calm you down.
If you’ve never stretched before, here’s some things to keep in mind:
1.) Gauge whether to stretch before or after your workout. Look at the workout you are going to do. Each stretch-type has different timings. Dynamic stretches should be done before you workout and static stretches should be done after. If you’re not certain, consult a certified trainer at your gym so they can help you find the best stretching protocol.
2.) Do not hold your stretches for too long. When clients ask me, “How long should I hold a stretch for?” A good and standard time is usually around 30 seconds, however, if you want to take a little more time to deepen the stretch longer, go ahead. Just make sure that it’s not too long! Anywhere between 30 to 60 seconds should be sufficient.
Everybody has their own views on stretching and whether or not it’s for them. If you were to ask me, obviously I’m going to tell you that you need to stretch, everyday….once in the morning, once at night AT THE VERY LEAST. Like I said before, we need to stretch everyday to get the kinks out and help us to lead more happier active lives!
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