Remember when you were a kid, and your PE teacher or coach had you stretch before you ran the track or stepped up to the home plate?
You would usually sit on the ground and stretch your arms as far towards your toes as they would go. Holding that position for 30 seconds or more, you would stretch those hamstrings and calf muscles. This is called static stretching (the most common type of stretching).
When static stretching, you are extending a muscle or a group of muscles by holding the stretch for a period of time. The stretch is usually held for 15-60 seconds and then repeated 2-4 times. Sound familiar?
Over the years, we have learned a great deal about stretching and what it does for your body. Stretching is needed daily to keep us mobile and independent. It is not just for athletes but for people who sit, garden, chase kids, and are “getting along in years.” Stretching helps keep the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. It increases blood flow, which increases nutrient intake.
Have you ever sat on the couch for an extended time and tried to get up and go for a run? By sitting on that couch, your muscles are weakened and unable to extend all the way making it hard to get those legs moving like you want them to. Shortened, weakened muscles can put you at risk for injury, joint pain, and muscle damage. You need to stretch before you take off running, but it is not the time for static stretching. Instead, consider dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretching involves movement. It should be done before your workout or run. Think of arm circles, jumping jacks, and straight leg swings. The goal is to prime your muscles to prepare for more vigorous exercise. Studies show that after dynamic stretching, you’re likely to feel more energetic and have better muscle endurance. Static stretching before a workout seems to decrease these same abilities because it decreases blood flow and places demands on specific muscles.
How often should you stretch? It is best to stretch a minimum of two to three times per week, but five times would be even better. This includes all major muscle-tendon groups such as neck, shoulders, chest, trunk, lower back, hips, legs, and ankles. Remember, dynamic movement stretches before and static targeted stretching after.
The benefits of stretching are flexibility, better posture, injury prevention, a calmed mind, better balance, and tension release. Make stretching a consistent part of your workout routine to increase your performance, and your body and mind will thank you.
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