YOU'RE STRETCHING WRONG
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
How we can become more bendy.
#Stretching is a key part in any exercise routine that not only gets us prepared for the task at hand, but it also helps us gain range of motion and recover.
Today I want to cover some of the general errors I see and how we can be more aware, efficient, and effective with our stretching (if you're not a big reader, you can listen to me read the blog post here!).
Stretching? That's not in my vocabulary.
Not stretching "puts you at risk of joint pain, strains, and muscle damage."
First off, if you're not stretching at all, you're DEFINITELY doing it wrong!
According to Harvard Medical School, stretching not only keeps the muscles flexible, but also strong and healthy so when it comes time to move our joints, they're ready to spring into action! Not stretching "puts you at risk of joint pain, strains, and muscle damage."
I feel like most of us already know this yet we still aren't as religious about stretching as we should be. Maybe that has to do with not knowing when, how, or for how long to stretch. So, let's dive into that.
Before working out
We're getting ready to start our workout. We know we should stretch but we skip it and just get to work. "We'll loosen up as we go. It'll be fine!" No harm, no foul, right? WRONG.
Without some stretching prior to exercise, our muscles are these shortened, frozen rubber bands, unprepared to move through a range of motion.
Imagine we froze a rubber band and tried to yank on it immediately after taking it from the freezer. It may stretch a bit but continue to stretch it further, eventually it'll tear or even break entirely. This is the same issue we run into when we don't stretch before working out. Without some stretching prior to exercise, our muscles are these shortened, frozen rubber bands, unprepared to move through a range of motion.
So let's say we've read only until this point, closed our browser, and called it a day. We're back in the gym ready to hit our next workout and now we have a better understanding of why we should stretch. So, we plop down into our favorite stretch and hold for 2 minutes. Missions accomplished! Mark stretching off the list of things to do today, right? WRONG AGAIN.
To take it back to our frozen rubber band analogy, if the first thing you do upon coming to the gym is yank on our muscles in a forceful stretch, our muscles are still cold! They're not ready to be lengthened so vigorously. Also, our stretching should mimic the activities we're going to do. Most exercises don't include laying on the floor for minutes at a time not moving so how is that, in any way, going to prepare us optimally for when we're moving weights at decent speeds? That's meant to be rhetorical but if we're not catching on, stretching in this manner prior to working out is not helpful! So what the hell do we do now!?
Well, first thing we do is get the blood flowing and raise our internal body temperature through 2-5 minutes MINIMUM of cardio before we start stretching away. This could be jump rope, jogging, rowing, biking, elliptical, etc. We just need to get in some gentle, consistent movement before anything. As for the type of stretching we're doing, we should first target the muscles we're planning on using and we might want to consider stretching those that are already sore for maintenance sake. We already discussed how laying on the ground stretching for minutes at a time (also known as static stretching) doesn't really get us going. So with that, how ARE we supposed to get ready? Well my friends, that would be the opposite of static stretching...dynamic stretching (I know, very creative). Dynamic stretching is where we move through a range of motion (key word here is MOVE), potentially stopping along the way for a quick stretch, lasting no more than :30. This way we're killing 2 birds with one stone; we're moving to prepare us for more movement (increasing body temperature and blood flow) and we're also lengthening the now warm muscle. If we're REALLY wanting to be efficient, we can do these stretches in between our warm up sets. Another thing to keep in mind is that your warm up should progress from low intensity to higher intensity the further along you go. If you're having trouble visualizing this, check out this video I made on warming up to get some ideas.
After working out
So, we got our blood flowing, internal body temperature up, dynamic stretching, and our workout in. All done! Nothing left to do, right? WRONG. This is the opportune time to stretch...again.
Now that we've completed our workout, we're likely very warm and in need of some down regulating of our system in order to come back to normal. This is where we want to do our static stretching. Staying in a stretch anywhere from 2-4 minutes after working out can help calm our nervous system, increase length in the muscle adding to our overall range of motion in the long term, and signal that it's time to shift gears and move on with our day. Just like with our dynamic stretching in our warm up where we targeted the areas to be used, we want to target the areas we just used in our cool down. If you have specific problem areas like tight hips (me, all the way), stiff low back, etc. this is also a great time to give those areas attention.
To cap off this post, let's review. If you're not stretching at some point, you're putting yourself at risk of strain or injury. When it comes to stretching prior to exercise, we shouldn't go into it cold. We should do some light cardio beforehand to raise our body temperature and get the blood flowing. Stick to dynamic stretching and holding stretches for no longer than :30. When it comes to saving more time, we can also do these stretches between our warm up sets (if you're looking for some stretches, check out our Tip Tuesday playlist on YouTube for some ideas). After our workout, we'll transition to static stretching where we'll hold positions for 2-4 minutes to increase length in the muscle over time and also aid in the recovery process by flushing out byproducts of exercise. If we have more troublesome areas, this is also a great chance to take advantage of that warmth and fix the more persisting flexibility issues we have.
As always, thanks for the read and I hope you've learned something! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I'll answer as soon as possible!
I'll see you on the next one!