For years we’ve been told to stretch before exercising to keep from tearing something. A new study, though, shows that not only is this not the best time to stretch but that most of us are doing the wrong kind of stretches.
Stretching is a good thing- but never do it when muscles are cold. Warm up first with some aerobic exercise- walking, slow jogging or a stationary bike. You don’t need to do this long- five minutes will work. This will get the blood flowing, increase temperature in the muscles, and makes the fibers more elastic. Stretching before warm up can not only cause injury, but can decrease your strength and performance in your workout.
After a good warm up, dynamic stretches are what you want to do. Static stretches- where you stretch as far as you can and then hold it- are not what you want here. Dynamic stretching involves taking a joint slowly through a range of motion. Simple rotations of the shoulder or hips, exaggerated motions while walking- such as lifting your legs straight out and goose-stepping, raising the knees up towards the chest, or raising your heels up to your butt- or yoga are all good dynamic stretches that prepare you for working out. Which ever stretches you use, do them in a controlled manner- you want your movements to flow, not jerk. Proper technique is vital. And stop before you get tired- you want to have the energy for your chosen workout! Above all, do not stretch to the point of pain.
The flexibility you’ll gain from proper stretching not only helps your workout, but it helps prevent injury, helps your posture, and aligns your body properly, which can make everything you do- even sitting and standing- more pain free and enjoyable. Proper stretching of the neck and shoulders can relieve a lot of neck and upper back pain that comes from sitting over a computer keyboard or doing handwork.
After you’ve done your workout, now you can do the static stretches. This is when you can lengthen those tight areas and gain flexibility. Go gently into a static stretch- like a hamstring stretch by trying to touch your nose to you knee with the leg straight- and hold for 30 seconds. Come back out of the stretch gently, too- no ballistic stretches with bouncing!
If your workout or sport has ‘˜problem areas’, like tennis players have elbow and shoulder problems or runners have knee problems, take extra time with stretching those areas. A physical therapist or sports medicine specialist can advise you as to stretches useful for your particular needs.
Lastly, stretching can improve your emotional life. Mental and emotional stress causes your muscles to tighten up- ever find yourself clenching your fists or gritting your teeth when upset, and then wonder why you’ve gotten a head and neck ache? It’s a cycle- you get emotionally tense, so you muscles tense, which causes pain and more emotional tension- and you can break out of this cycle with stretching.
ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/pre-exercise-stretching-killing-workout/story?id=11835944
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stretching/HQ01447/NSECTIONGROUP=2