Like it or hate it, stretching is a necessary component of any fitness plan. But how many of us reserve time in our workout to give our muscles the TLC they need? If you’re like a lot of people, receiving in one more set of burpees or pressing in five more minutes on the treadmill often takes priority overstretching.
What if we informed you that cutting out five minutes at the end of your routine can help you recover faster and set you up to have a better workout next time? Would you give it a try? We asked three experts to provide us with the scoop on everything you need to know about stretching.
1.Why Do We Need to Stretch?
If you’re on the front about the importance of stretching, Rachelle Reed, Ph.D., says researchers match the many convincing benefits of regular flexibility exercise. These include increased flexibility, more reliable joint range of movement, reduced risk of injury, and improved physical fitness. Reed, a Kinesiologist and Manager of Exercise Development at Pure Barre, points out that stretching can decrease stress, fatigue, and anxiety and improve feelings of energy, mindfulness, and positivity.
2.What happens when we stretch?
While the accurate mechanics of what happens are not fully understood, regular stretching increases flexibility by making muscles more supple and retraining the nervous system to stretch further. Flexibility from regular stretching slowly disappears once you stop trying – typically following four weeks.
Dr. Polly McGuigan, a speaker in biomechanics from the University of Bath, says it’s unclear whether the increase in the range of motion of a joint is due to physical changes in the muscles that control those joints just a more famous tolerance to stretching. She replies: “My feeling is that there must be some changes at the muscle-tendon unit level, as just increasing tolerance would not have the scale of the effect that can see with some stretching programs.”
3.What Type of Stretching Should You Do?
There are more ways to include stretching than you may think. Timing Exercise, fitness environment, and training goals all influence which type of exercise is best for your stretching? All forms of extension improve flexibility and range of movement. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) remarks on the next six types of stretches.
Static stretching is often recommended for general fitness. With this type, you gradually ease into the position and hold for 10 to 30 seconds before slowly releasing the stretch. Static stretching should perform with warm muscles, such as after a warm-up or at the end of a workout. There are two forms of static stretching.
This form of stretching is used in yoga and martial arts. The stretch is helping the strength of agonist muscles (the muscles responsible for the movement). Think of the time across the upper body during the Warrior II pose in yoga. Your arms are extending as your back, chest, and shoulders are stretched. The muscles of the arms and joints are the agonist muscles that allow you to keep this stretch.
Dynamic stretching is stretching with transportation. The body transitions slowly into a position, and this movement is repeating as you increase your reach and range of the campaign. If you have ever taken a group workout class, you have likely engaged in dynamic stretching. Movements such as alternating knee lift regularly stretch the hamstrings while keeping the body in training. Research has noticed that dynamic stretching is less beneficial than static stretching for improving range of motion. Still, unlike static stretching, it is ideal during the pre-workout phase because it gently warms muscles while also stretching them.
PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. This stretching type is often referred to as partner stretching because two people must perform the movements. There are various forms of PNF, but they commonly involve an isometric hold followed by a passive stretch of the same muscle club. An example of PNF is a hamstring time where one person lies on her back beside the right leg enlarged straight up into the air. The next person grasps the ankle and smoothly presses the portion towards the other person’s energy to stretch the hamstring. The stress is released, and then the stretch is repeated.
While PNF is as effective as static stretching for improving range of motion, it is less practical because of a partner’s necessity. It is often using in clinical and fitness settings for training and rehabilitation.
This type of stretching uses bouncing movements to create momentum, which moves a muscle into the stretch. For example, instead of holding a hamstring stretch, you would quickly reach your toes and repeatedly release in short bursts of movement. Fitness trainers have long been warned about ballistic stretching dangers because it can cause a stretch reflex that injures the muscle. Current recommendations from the ACSM state that ballistic stretching can improve flexibility and static stretching when performing correctly. It is best considering for those participating in ballistic exercises such as basketball and other athletics.
4.How Do You Know If You’re Stretching Perfectly?
“It can be simple to overstretch,” tells Dr. Kellen Scantlebury, DPT, CSCS, and CEO of Fit Club NY. Stretching should never be painful; that’s why he always means his clients should be a firm but comfortable feeling. “We do not desire to stretch into pain. Some people are more hypermobile and can move their bodies to the extremes of their range of motion without feeling a stretch,” says Scantlebury. If that sounds like you, he thinks you should adjust more on strengthening versus stretching.
It needs time to notice improvements in your flexibility. Still, Reed says you should feel measured differences in your body after four to six weeks of continually stretching at most, limited 2 to 3 times a week, 10 minutes every time. “Avoid pushing yourself too far too fast, and use principles of gradual progression,” she says. Every week or so, Reed suggests re-assessing where you are and challenge yourself just a bit more to continue gradually improving your flexibility. If anything is uncomfortable or hard to breathe through, try backing off just a bit.
5. How much flexibility do I need?
It depends on your exercise. The flexibility demands of a jumper or a ballet dancer are different from those of a runner. There is a small to be gained for a jogger or runner from a gymnast’s flexibility.
To generate power and during exercise, the muscles and tendons store and free energy like a spring. Too much flexibility may defeat the muscle’s standard spring, which may be harmful to activities involving running, jumping, and sudden moves in a direction, such as running, football, or basketball.
“Though, too little flexibility may increase the risk of muscle strain injury, as the muscles are unable to lengthen and absorb this energy,” says Dr. Anthony Kay, Associate Professor of Biomechanics from the University of Northampton.
Use The Bonus
1.Does stretching before exercise affect performance?
Analysis suggests that stretching before exercise performs your muscles more exposed and slower (PDF, 516kb), even though you might feel more relaxed. “For most utmost performances, this would be harmful,” says Dr. Ian Shrier, a sports medication clinician and researcher and Assistant Professor at the Department of Family Medicine, at Montreal’s McGill University.
Though stretching also increases your range of motion. “A ballerina might require stretching before the performance to do a complete split during the show,” says Dr. Shrier. “Even though she is younger, her performance will include improv.”
Dr. Kay, the lead author on one of the most extensive reviews, on pre-performance stretching (PDF, 307 KB), believes the reduction in performance from pre-exercise extension has overstated. “Likely, durations of stretch used in the warm-up routines of most recreational exercisers produce negligible and transient reductions in strength,” he says.
2. Does stretching before exercising defeat the risk of injury?
The testimony strongly suggests that pre-exercise stretching does not reduce injury risk (PDF, 516 KB). Professor Rob Herbert, the Senior Principal Researcher Fellow with Neuroscience Research Australia, took part in the three most extensive randomized trials on the effects of stretching. They all concluded that extension had little or no beneficial effect on the reduction in injury risk.
The most recent and most extensive of the three studies found “a hint” of an impact on reducing damages like ligament tears, muscle tears, strains, and injuries. But Prof Herbert warned, “If stretching does cut your odds of one of these types of injuries, it’s by only a minimal amount.”
3.When do injuries occur?
Muscle damages happen when the muscle is put under too much stress, typically when it is stretched under pressure – for instance, when lowering a heavyweight.
The injury happens not because the muscle isn’t flexible enough but because it doesn’t produce enough force to support itself. Power might not have enough energy, either because it is not strong enough or it didn’t contract at the right time for a particular movement.
4.Does stretching, reduce soreness?
There is no evidence that stretching helps defeat or prevent a type of pain that can show up a day or two after training – also called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
A 2011 study by Prof Herbert (509kb) found that “muscle stretching, whether conducted before, after or before and after exercise, does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed onset muscle soreness in healthy adults.”
5.Should I stretch before exercising?
Your judgment to stretch or not to stretch should base on what you want to complete. “If the objective is to defeat injury, stretching before exercise is not helpful,” says Dr. Shrier. Your time would better be spent warming up your muscles with light aerobic steps and gradually increasing their energy.
“If your objective is to improve your range of motion so that you can more simply do the splits, and this is more helpful than the small loss in energy, then you should stretch,” says Dr. Shrier.
For most recreational exercisers, growing before exercise is, accordingly, a matter of personal preference. “If you like stretching, take it, and if you don’t like stretching, don’t do it,” says Prof Herbert.
6.How should I warm up?
The purpose of heating up is to prepare psychologically and physically for your chosen activity. A typical warm-up will take at least 10 minutes and involve light aerobic movements and some dynamic stretching that mimics the actions of the action you’re about to perform.
“Constantly increasing the range of motion of these movements during the warm-up will prepare the body for more intense versions of those actions during the sport itself,” says Dr. McGuigan. This method will raise your heart rate and increase your muscles’ blood flow, thereby warming them up.
Warm muscles are small, stiff, and work more efficiently. Enlarged blood flow enables more oxygen to reach the muscles and produce energy. The warm-up also activates the nerve signals to your muscles, which results in faster reaction times.
7.Should I stretch after exercising?
There is some data that regular static stretching outside exercise periods may increase power and speed and reduce injury. The best time to try is when the muscles are warm and pliable. It could be during a yoga or pilates class or just after exercising.
However, there is minimal evidence about correctly stretching after exercise. Dr. Shier says: “Because people tend not to set aside one time to stretch and one time for other activities, I recommend that they stretch after exercise.”
A post-exercise stretch will also slow down your breathing and heart rate and bring the mind and body back to a resting state.