Stretching is something that often gets put on the back burner when we hit the gym. The point of going to the gym is to lift and get your cardio in, right? WRONG! We all know stretching is important, but exactly how important is it? Honestly, the research on this subject has mixed results – some studies show that stretching reduces muscle soreness and helps your overall health, while other studies show that it doesn’t really make a difference.
Personally, I have seen a lot of benefits from making sure to include stretching into my weekly routine. According to The Mayo Clinic, stretching can improve your joint’s range of motion, increases athletic ability, and help reduce the risk of injury. When you stretch, you are increasing blood flow to those muscles, which can help to activate your muscles or “turn them on” before you work out. Stretching after a workout can help your muscles cool down and not tighten up immediately.
Here are some key points to remember about stretching:
- Don’t consider stretching the “warm up” to your workout. Stretching a “cold” muscle can actually cause damage and injury. Make sure to warm up by walking or doing other light exercises for five to ten minutes before stretching and starting your workout.
- Stretch both sides of your body equally. I know this sounds like common sense, but it is important to say! Having equal flexibility on both sides of your body will allow for equal range of motion and decrease your chances of injury.
- If you are stretching before exercising, hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, holding static stretches for a longer period of time can actually be detrimental to your workout. Studies also show that static stretching before intense activity (like sprinting, for example) can actually decrease your performance. It is recommended to perform a “dynamic warm up” in these cases, which is where you slowly perform movements similar to what you will do in your workout and gradually increase speed/intensity as your muscles warm up.
- Don’t bounce. Some people do this to try to get a deeper stretch, but bouncing in your stretch can actually cause injury to your muscle and contribute to increased muscle tightness.
- When you are stretching, you should feel tension or a “pull” in the muscle, but you should not be aiming to be in pain. When you reach that point of tension, hold it for 30-60 seconds, and then release your stretch.
- Keep it up! Aim to stretch 2-3 times per week and keep up that routine. When you stretch, you increase your flexibility and range of motion but when you stop stretching, that flexibility goes away.
I have grown to love my stretching routine – I have seen improvements in my flexibility and in my lifts from working to increase my range of motion. While there are many benefits to stretching, remember that stretching does not eliminate your risk of injury completely and it is possible to cause injury by stretching. Start slow and always consult your physician and/or trainer before starting any new exercise programs.