The main purpose of stretching is to increase flexibility and reduce the risk of pain or injury during an exercise. With increased flexibility, we are able to strengthen muscles throughout their full range of motion around our joints. Before deciding when to stretch, it is important to first identify the different types of stretching and understand their effects on the body.
Types of Stretches
Static Stretching: this is the most commonly known form of stretching and involves maintaining a specific joint position for an extended time period (about 15-30 sec).
Example: Standing Hamstring stretch
Dynamic Stretching: this form of stretching requires that you actively move a joint through its full range of motion (repeated motion for period of time).
Example: Leg Swings
Stretching before Exercise
It is important to prime our muscles before exercise to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. The best way to do this is to first perform a general warm-up in order to increase muscle temperature, increase your heart rate, and increase blood flow. Examples of a general warm-up: 5 mins of treadmill walking/ jogging, or riding the stationary bike.
Stretching performed after the warm-up should target the muscles that will be used during the workout. Though static stretching is very effective for increasing range of motion, studies have shown that it may have negative effect on exercise performance, particularly in regards to resistance training. Static stretching decreases muscle and tendon stiffness that is necessary for optimal contraction during exercise. However, dynamic stretching does not appear to have this same effect and because it involves movements that mimic exercise, we are able to prep multiple muscle groups more efficiently. Because of this, dynamic flexibility exercises are preferred before a workout.
Stretching after Exercise
Stretching can be a key part of “cool down” after a workout. Static stretching is most productive following a workout because it allows for greater blood flow back to the muscles, which is essential for proper recovery. Static stretching will increase flexibility/ joint range of motion, and because the workout is already complete, there is no reason for concern about the negative performance effects.
Stretching in General
Even if you aren’t exercising regularly, stretching has many benefits that can improve one’s health. Stretching (increasing flexibility) can decrease muscle imbalances, improve posture, reduce the risk of chronic injuries such as low back pain, and even relieve stress.
By Dave McCalla