Ah, stretching, we all know it’s important and yet most of us still don’t do it as much as we should or even at all. I get it, you’re revving to go before a workout and just want to get out there and GET. IT. DONE. The thought of stretching kills your vibe and before you know it, you’re ready for a nap on the gym floor. I’m there with ya, I used to loathe the thought of stretching before and after my workouts. Before my workouts, I just wanted to get in there and seize the challenge right away and after my workouts, I just wanted to PEACE. It wasn’t until I hurt my back a couple years ago where I truly had my “ah ha” moment and realized I wasn’t doing my body any favors by not properly taking the steps to ensure my workout was effective and safe.
So let’s chat a little about the benefits of stretching shall we:
1. Increases flexibility: Not only can improved flexibility help you perform everyday activities but it can also help delay the reduced mobility that can come with aging.
2. Improves your exercise form: By correcting muscular imbalances, static stretching helps you perform any exercise with better form.
3. Increases Range of Motion (ROM): ROM is the full movement potential of a joint. Increasing this range gives you more freedom of movement.
4. Improve your performance in physical activities: Dynamic stretching helps prepare your muscles for a certain activity which can aid in increased performance.
5: Increases blood circulation: Improved circulation increases blood flow to your muscles, which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness.
6. Decreases chance of injury: Tight and cold muscles can lead to decreased range of motion which increases the likelihood of straining your muscles
7. Stress reliever: Your muscles tend to tighten up in response to physical and emotional stress. Stretching them out can be a natural relief to whatever tension you’re holding on to.
8. Helps improve posture: Tight muscles can lead to weak muscles which can lead to postural compensations.
So many benefits!!!But what stretches should I do and when you ask!? Well don’t fret, I’ve broken down all the different types and benefits of stretches with examples.
Different types and benefits of stretching:
Self-myofascial release aka foam rolling: This type of stretching is used to help correct existing overactive muscles and reduce trigger points and can be done before and/or after exercising. To perform correctly, apply gentle pressure on overactive muscles for at least 30 seconds. A lot of people tend to continuously roll their muscles out but it’s actually more effective to hold the pressure on the overactive muscle for the entire 30 seconds before moving to another spot.
Static Stretching: This is used to correct existing muscle imbalances and lengthen overactive (tight) muscles and is great to do after exercising as it enhances muscle relaxation. Static stretching is performed correctly by taking the muscle to the point of tension and holding it there for at least 30 secs. Examples of static stretches:
- Shoulder stretch: Interlock your fingers and reach above your head. Your lower back should be flat or slightly arched inwards.
- Triceps stretch: Place your left hand behind your head and reach as far down your back as possible. With your right hand grasp your left elbow and gently pull it behind the back of your head. Repeat for the other arm.
- Chest stretch: Clasp your hands behind your back. Gently straighten your elbows and raise your arms as high as comfortably possible.
- Lower Back stretch: Lying flat on your back place the sole of your right foot on your left thigh. Grasp your right knee with your left hand and gently roll it to the left. Try to get your knee as close to the floor as possible without your right shoulder leaving the floor.
- Quadriceps stretch: Standing upright clasp your ankle and pull your heel into your butt. Repeat for the other leg. You can always use a chair, wall, etc if you need balance support.
- Hamstring stretch: Sitting down, stretch your legs out in front of you while keeping your back flat and upright. Bend your left leg keeping your left foot flat on the floor. Slowly reach forward and try to touch your right toe with both hands. Bend from your waist keeping your lower back flat and your head up. Repeat for the other leg.
- Hip Flexor stretch (aka pigeon stretch): Bring the heel of your front leg to the pants pocket on your other leg. This will align your hips and allow you to drive them into the floor, accentuating the stretch.
- Calf stretch Stand arms length away from a wall and with feet shoulder width apart. Place your right foot about 2 feet in front of your left. Keeping both heels flat on the ground lean towards the wall by bending your right knee. Your left leg should stay straight. Push gently against the wall for a deeper stretch. Repeat for the left leg.
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS): This form of stretching aids in lengthening and strengthening muscle tissue. Our muscles have two major functions: to contract or relax. The idea of AIS is to hold a stretch for one to two seconds, relax, and then repeat the movement for 10 to 15 times for one to two sets. When the stretch is done right, you should be able to increase your range of motion with each additional set. The benefits of incorporating AIS into your routine include increased isolated flexibility, realignment of the body, reduced chance of injury and better awareness of your body. AIS is a preferred method of stretching pre and post workout, because it allows the muscles and joints to move in their full range of motion, prepares the body for activity, and provides a dynamic warm up of major muscles.
Examples of AIS:
- Hamstring stretch: Lie on your back. Begin with your non-exercising knee bent and with that foot flat on the floor. Use a rope, towel or resistance band and place the foot of the leg you’re exercising into the loop, locking the knee so the leg is extended straight out. From the hip and using the quadriceps, lift your leg as far as you can, aiming your foot toward the ceiling. Grasp the ends of the rope with both hands and “climb” the rope, keeping slight tension on it.
- Calf stretch: Sit with both legs straight out in front of you. Loop a rope, towel or resistance band around the foot of your exercising leg (still straight). From your heel, flex your foot back toward your ankle, using the rope for a gentle assist at the end of the movement.
- Hip Flexor stretch: Lunge forward with your right leg while contracting your right glute and hamstring. Press your left shin down to the floor for support while keeping your core engaged and chest up.
- IT Band stretch: Wrap a rope, towel or resistance band around your right foot and rotate externally. Move your right leg across your body keeping your leg at a low angle and using the band to help guide your leg.
Dynamic stretching:This form of stretching is the ideal warm up routine because they mimic movements used in the sport or activity you’re planning on doing. They prepare the body for activity by helping to increase blood flow and muscle temperature and activate the muscles you’re planning on using. They also help to improve body awareness, range of motion, and can even enhance muscular performance and power.
Examples of dynamic stretches:
- Lunge with rotation: The forward lunge helps stretch the hip flexors and activates the legs, glutes, and hips, while the twist stretches out the upper and middle back and activates core rotation. As you do the lunge, step forward, then drop your hips making sure your knee does not extend past your foot. Once you are in proper lunge position, slowly twist toward the side you are lunging for a more intense hip flexor stretch.
- High Kicks: These stretches help warm up the hamstrings and improve range of motion. You can do them while alternating as you walk or stationary while focusing on one side at a time. Start by extending your left arm straight out. Kick your right leg up while keeping your hand straight so that your toes hit your palm. Try to progressively kick higher as your ROM increases.
- Knees to Chest: Bring your knee toward your chest and then quickly strike it back towards the ground. Focus on bringing the knee cap into the chest by hugging your shin while stepping onto your toes with your opposite foot, which will give you more leverage. This is a great warm up to do prior to running as it mimics the top of a running stride.
Shoot me an email or message if you have any questions!
Cheers to all those warmed up, long and strong limbs!