Stretching may be one of the most boring parts of exercising but it’s also one of the most beneficial parts. Stretching not only leads to increased flexibility but can help prevent injuries.
However, the typical type of stretching you may be used to–Static Stretching–does not help with flexibility and may in fact cause an injury when performed pre-exercise. It is better to start with a more active form of stretching before exercising–Dynamic Stretching. Nevertheless, Static Stretching is excellent for muscle soreness and can really help reduce stiffness. Static and Dynamic Stretching both have their benefits, it’s important to know what style works best for you.
Dynamic Stretching requires you to move your body as you stretch, increasing your range of motion and the speed of your movements as you go. This form of stretching not only increases your flexibility but your circulation as well, while decreasing the risk of injury. Dynamic stretches increase your heart rate and warm up the muscles to prepare them for a more arduous workout.
Notice how the demonstrator does not stop moving, that is what makes it Dynamic. It is important to stay in motion in order to keep your muscles warm. Here are some examples of Dynamic Stretching:
- High kicks
Static Stretching is better after you have warmed up your muscles or after your workout. However, you cannot just “stretch,” without a specific focus or strategy. There are still some key factors in learning to stretch properly:
- Focus on Major Muscle Groups. These groups include, but are not restricted to, calves, thighs, hips, neck, lower back, shoulders, and arms. Remember to stretch both sides of your body!
- Hold Your Stretch. Most casual exercisers think 10 counts is enough but you actually need at least 30 seconds to fully stretch a muscle. Some muscles may need 60 seconds of stretching or more.
- Do Not Hold When Painful. You will feel tension when you’re stretching. That means you’re doing it right! However, if the pain becomes more than a little ache, you should stop immediately and contact your physician if the pain does not stop. Stretching is supposed to help you, not hurt you. Be careful not to overstretch.
- Tailor Your Stretches to Your Sport. If use your arms more than your legs, spend more time on your arms. If you use specific joints, stretch them. If your sport is prone to a specific injury, focus more time on warming up that area.
And finally, do not give up. Always stretch whenever you exercise. Your flexibility will disappear a lot quicker than it came! Not only do you need air–your muscles do, too.