28 Jun Bend and Stretch
Bend and Stretch
by Resse Davis
Throughout my years of teaching group fitness classes, I have learned that there is always one person who will leave the class as we stop the workout to begin the “cool down” and stretch. My thought is always the same, “why are you leaving now? This is your reward for a great workout!” It has become so commonplace to skip the stretching portion of a workout that many fitness professionals have given up on trying to persuade their clients to incorporate it into their routine. This is quite a shame because stretching is SO important!
Stretching leads to flexibility, and flexibility can help prevent injury and relieve muscular tension. Muscular tension can cause big problems. If muscles are shortened from lack of flexibility (*cough* by skipping your stretches *cough cough*), the nearby joint cannot move in its natural way. This can result in painful strains if the shortened muscle is suddenly made to lengthen by strenuous activity, such as in a new fitness class or a friendly game of tennis. Stretching gently and gradually elongates muscles, giving the connected joints the freedom to move in their natural manner. By maintaining a regular regimen of stretching, you can help prevent injury and pain.
Okay, So How Do I Start?
Great question! It is not necessary to focus on stretching every single muscle in your body. Instead, focus on stretching muscle groups, particularly those in your lower extremities such as your hamstrings (back of your thigh), quadriceps (front of your thigh), calves, and hip flexors (pelvis). For your upper region, the lower back, chest, shoulders, and neck are the muscle groups that should be focused on. Make a goal of stretching at least 3-4 times per week, but preferably daily.
As with any exercise regimen, if you have a chronic condition such as Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s or the like, make sure you discuss your stretching routine with your doctor before you start.
Listen, you didn’t become inflexible overnight and you won’t become “The Amazing Bendy McStretchy” overnight either. Give yourself time to reach your goals naturally and healthfully. This will be an ongoing process, but the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll notice the results.
Do It Right So You Won’t Be Tight (see what I did there?)
So, now that you know the “what,” “why,” and “where,” let’s talk about the “how”. With whatever muscle group you’re stretching, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:
- NO BOUNCING- The safest, most effective way to stretch a muscle or muscle group is holding a strong, static stretch. “Bouncing” during a stretch is not effective and can cause injury if the muscle is over-extended.
- Warm-Up Before You Stretch– Studies have found that stretches yield better results with less injury when they are performed after an individual is warmed up rather than before. A simple 5-10 minute walk will do the trick.
- Stretch After a Workout- This point ties into the point above. You should always stretch after you have done a weight-training or cardio-conditioning workout. This gives your muscles an opportunity to elongate while they are in a warm, pliable state. Stretching after a good workout gives you the best opportunity to stretch your muscle longer, more quickly.
- Hold for 30 Seconds- Make it your goal to hold each stretch for 30 seconds. This will give you enough time to elicit change in your muscles.
Keep in mind; stretching is supposed to feel good. As you stretch, you should feel tension, not pain. If you do feel pain, make sure you talk to your doctor.