How to Stretch, When to Stretch

Do any of these lines sound familiar?

  • If you don’t stretch before your workout, you’re hurting yourself. It would help if you kept trying to get the benefit.
  • Do not bounce while stretching – you will tear your muscles.

Well, they are all wrong. But first, a more important question needs to be answered.

“Good way to end your workout.” — physiologist Mike Braco

Do you need to stretch at all?

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it’s a good idea. ACSM recommends stretching each of the major muscle groups at least twice a week for 60 seconds per exercise.

Staying flexible as you age is a good idea. This helps you move better.

For example, regular stretching can help keep your hips and hamstrings flexible later in life, says Lynn Millar, Ph.D. She is a physical therapist and professor at Winston-Salem State University.

If you have posture or activity problems, make it a habit to stretch these muscles regularly. If your back hurts from sitting at your desk all day, changing that posture can help.

Simple back stretch

Physiologist Mike Braco recommends standing at Cat Camel as a work-related backstretch. Here’s how:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly bent at the knees.
  • Lean forward with your hands just above your knees.
  • Round your back so that your chest is closed and your shoulders are arched forward.
  • Then arch your back so that your chest opens up and your shoulders roll back.
  • Repeat several times.

If your job forces you to be in the same position all day, Braco suggests taking two-minute stretch breaks to change that position at least every hour.

Do I need to stretch to reap the benefits?

Not necessary.

Stretching a muscle to full strength and holding it for 15-30 seconds is called static stretching, and there is nothing wrong with such a stretch as long as you do not stretch it until it hurts.

But research shows that dynamic stretching is just as effective and sometimes better, especially before a workout.

A dynamic stretch, such as a standing cat-camel, smoothly moves a muscle group through its entire range of motion.

Here is a static version of Cat-Camel:

  • Interlace your fingers and turn your palms facing outward in front of you.
  • Stretch your arms as far as possible, arching your back and shoulders forward.
  • Hold for about 10 seconds.
  • Now release your fingers and grab your wrists or fingers behind your back.
  • Raise your arms as high as possible behind your back, without releasing them, so that your chest opens and your shoulders straighten.

With any stretch, static or dynamic, you should feel the space but not the pain. Thus, there is no need to stretch further than the range of motion you typically want.

Should you stretch before a workout?

Not necessary. It has not been proven to help prevent injury, reduce muscle soreness after a workout, or improve your performance.

Static stretching before a workout can reduce performance, such as running speed in school. The most likely reason is that stretching tires your muscles.

It would help if you warmed up by doing dynamic stretching, similar to your workout but at a lower intensity. Before running, a good warm-up can be brisk walking, walking lunges, leg swings, high steps, or “kicking” (slow jogging forward with a kickback).

Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity.

Should you stretch after a workout?

This is a great time to stretch.

“After exercising, everyone becomes more flexible because you increase circulation to those muscles and joints and move them,” says Millar.

You will get the most out of them if you do static stretches.

“After you go for a run or strength workout, you take a short walk. Then you will stretch. It’s a good way to end a workout,” Braco says.

Can you stretch at any time?

Yes. It is not necessary to stretch before or after a regular workout. It’s just important to try sometimes.

This could be when you wake up, before going to bed, or during work breaks.

“Stretching or flexibility should be part of a regular program,” says Millar.

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