For many individuals, stretching is not on the forefront of their mind when it is time to start working out. Some don't see the need to do so, reserving stretching for when a muscle is injured or tight as a means of providing relief. Others might know the benefits of stretching, but due to inflexibility or insecurities, don't partake in stretching themselves. Regardless of your thoughts or opinions when it comes to stretching, this article will provide some insight into the benefits of stretching; whether you’re just trying to touch your toes or warm up for a new maximum lift.
When most people think about stretching they often think about holding a stretch for about 15-30 seconds prior to an exercise and this isn't necessarily wrong but it also isn’t necessarily right either. You see, when we talk about stretching, it is important to note that there are two different types of stretching: static and dynamic. Static stretching is what most people are familiar with. Static stretches are those in which you stand, sit or lie still and hold a single position for a period of time, up to about 20-30 seconds. Dynamic stretching on the other hand is a movement based type of stretching that differs from static stretching as the stretch is not held. An example of static stretching would be sitting on the ground and reaching for your toes. An example of a dynamic stretch would be arm circles. So what gives? What differences does it make? Well, when it comes to maximizing performance and preventing injury, it matters a lot.
Here's the kicker: Static stretching should NOT be done prior to exercise. Instead, it is recommended that you do dynamic stretching prior to your workouts. This is a result of our bodies response to the different types of stretches. Dynamic stretching takes your body through movements that mimic the movements that you will be completing during your exercise. Compared to static stretching, this increases heart rate and core temperature which helps in the speed at which electrical signals move through nerves resulting in faster recruitment of muscle cells, increases enzymatic functions which results in increased energy production, and puts the muscles through their full range of motion which helps prevent injuries. Looking at these responses, it's evident why this is the better course of action prior to a workout.
So what about static stretching, does it get left to the wayside entirely? Absolutely not! This leads back to the original statement that stretching before a workout isn't necessarily bad, but it also isn't the greatest. That’s because static stretching should be done AFTER exercise. Static stretching helps increase flexibility and mobility, this much is common knowledge, but beyond that static stretching significantly improves blood flow to the muscles being stretched. This increased blood flow brings with it additional nutrients for repairing muscle cells while also taking away metabolites that could increase soreness. This means that taking 5-10 minutes to do some static stretching could allow you to go harder next workout, or at the very least save you some soreness.
Obviously, stretching should be done with caution, as you don't want to over stretch and cause yourself injury. Starting small and only stretching until mildly uncomfortable (not painful) for 20 seconds is a good place to start. However, if you're still hesitant you could always reach out to one of The GYM’s personal trainers to help guide you along the way as well. By taking a few minutes before and after your workout to do some separate types of stretching, you can elevate your workouts, improve your flexibility, and maybe even spare yourself some agony next time you hit leg day a little too hard.
Personal Trainer @ The Gym Norton