7 Tips & Facts for Stretching & Flexibility
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
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Why is stretching so important? You may go throughout your day without even thinking about stretching, or why it should be important... so why do it? I'd say the benefits of stretching are absolutely ones to consider to implement into your healthy lifestyle!
THE BENEFITS: - Better flexibility, mobility & range of motion (you might have an easier time reaching down to the dish washer, to clean your bath tub, etc.)
- Release stress & tension (...is that why so many people do yoga?)
- May increase circulation & blood flow to muscles (we love a quicker recovery!)
- Can prevent injury *(in some cases) ...read more about this later!
TIP #1: WARM UP! Growing up as a dancer, I didn't always realize how important this step was prior to stretching. Of course, most dance classes have a warm up and stretch portion, but I thought back to certain classes, rehearsals, practices, etc., and I definitely did NOT always do a sufficient warm up... some of us arrived, did a stretch on our own, which sometimes just involved dropping into your splits (ah, to be young again haha), and I absolutely got injured this way. Not just dancers, but everyone needs to warm up before stretching! Without getting into too much anatomy, your muscles generally just need to be more pliable before you stretch them- if not, this could lead to some serious injury. HOW TO WARM UP? There are SO many warm up movements that you can do- jumping, hopping, skipping, moving all of your joints & muscles, anything to get your blood flowing- even until you work up a light sweat! Here are some ideas:
- Jumping jacks - Jump rope (skipping) - Brisk walking - High knees - Air punches - Marching and SO much more! Then, during your warm up, you can also implement other movements like Dynamic stretching! What is dynamic stretching?? This is active movements where your muscles and joints move through their full range of motion. You might see athletes like soccer players commonly doing this as their warm up- things such as: - Forward kick and reach - Hip circles and swings - Shoulder rotations - Ankle and wrist rotations - Jump squats or lunges There are so many options out there that you can make specific to your sport or activity!
TIP #2: How Long to Hold a Stretch?
Typically, we want to hold a static stretch anywhere from 10-30 seconds. Of course, this may differ for everyone depending on your flexibility level. You might start with 10 seconds if you are a beginner and feel extremely tight, and progress the length of the hold from there. If you are more advanced, maybe you already have a stretching routine or are into dance or yoga, you may want to hold your stretch closer to 30 seconds (maybe slightly longer) to continue to improve flexibility and allow your muscles to lengthen. A great product that I used as a competitive dancer, was a door stretcher to assist me with more advanced stretches! I would only recommend this to someone who has a higher level of flexibility and mobility, and would benefit from the assistance for advanced movements & stretches. No matter what level of flexibility or mobility you are at, it is important that everyone stretches- just even for our activities of daily living!
TIP #3: How Often Should You Stretch? Stretching everyday is great- but I understand this maybe isn't realistic for some people. It really also depends on your goals. Even if you are only stretching just for your everyday activities, not necessarily to get your splits, a regular stretching routine is great. You can start to aim for 3-4x per week and make it a part of your daily schedule! Just like a workout, schedule in your stretching routine for the day, whether that is making a list of everything you have to do that day, putting it on your calendar, setting a reminder- whatever works best for you! Here are some great planners and scheduling items that may help, especially if you are a list person like me! Daily Task Planner
If you want to be really specific, you can even try an exercise/stretching log book to record all of your stretches/exercises on the daily! Like this one here
TIP #4: What Should You Feel When You Stretch? Pain vs. Discomfort:
You should NOT be feeling pain when you stretch. This is a common misconception, or "no pain no gain". There is a difference between pain and discomfort. When you stretch, it is normal to feel a mild discomfort and tension in your muscle. When you hold a static stretch, you want to find this spot and lightly hold it there. Make sure to not push past this point, or else you will start to get into the "danger zone" where you can really injure yourself. Pain is a sign of your body telling you "something is not right." You may find that while you hold your stretch, your muscle will slowly lengthen and you might be able to have a little bit more of a range in your stretch. You can allow yourself to ease further into the stretch, as long as you are not pushing past the point of mild discomfort or tension.
TIP #5: BREATHE! Don't forget to breathe through your stretch! Getting oxygen throughout your body and to your muscles is so important. This is also important when we do exercises of course. Many people tend to hold their breath during certain movements or while holding stretches (usually because of discomfort). Breathing through this discomfort will actually make it easier and more pleasant to stretch... think of why so many people use their breath during yoga, pilates, etc!
TIP #6: Avoid Bouncing! Ballistic stretching... this means bouncing in a stretch. You may have seen certain athletes do this before, and it really depends on your goals and activity. However, research shows that ballistic stretching can usually be too aggressive for most individuals and can have a higher risk of injury. Especially if you are a beginner, it is not recommended to bounce in a stretch.
TIP #7: When to Stretch? There is some controversy around this topic and a lack of research in some areas. The bottom line is that it depends on your goals and what activity you are stretching for. Research shows that static stretching prior to activity can actually decrease performance (such as things like speed, power, etc.) But this brings us back to the main point: what activity are you stretching for? If you are a dancer, who goes through large ranges of motion and typically uses a lot of flexibility & mobility, than yes- we usually stretch prior to dancing (after warming up and including dynamic stretching of course). We want to go through those ranges of motion with our muscles and joints before just jumping right into those extreme movements. On the flip side, if you are a power lifter or a sprinter, than static stretching is usually not ideal, since you are quickly contracting your muscles in a short period of time and want the most speed or power possible. There is not much evidence that static stretching prior to activity necessarily decreases your risk of injury (again, depending on your activity, is can actually decrease performance). Again, a warm up and dynamic stretching is usually best prior to exercise/activity. So, to answer the question, static stretching is usually best after exercise/activity. This will guarantee that your muscles are warm and pliable, and stretching is also a great way to cool down after exercise. There is also some lack of evidence that static stretching post-workout (or activity) necessarily reduces soreness or helps with recovery. It typically is a case-by-case basis and can differ with different muscle groups. In my opinion, is it a bad idea to stretch at all after exercise? No. Depending on what your activity is, you may want to adjust your intensity of your static stretches after your workout or activity (try light stretches instead of intense stretches right after a workout).
These are some common questions or myths around stretching and I hope it also helps to motivate you to include a stretching routine in your healthy lifestyle!
Watch my YouTube video about this topic! ↓↓↓