Stretching - what to do and when?
If you're anything like me, as you get older you need to do a really good warm up before even attempting to exercise! Coupled with that, stretching and rolling are also paramount in enabling me to continue working out going forward. So what sort of stretching do we do and when do we do it?
There are several different types of stretching including static, dynamic, ballistic and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). In fitness, we mainly do static and dynamic stretching, so lets start with dynamic.
Dynamic stretching involves actively moving your muscles and joints through their full range of motion in order to help lengthen our connective tissue (tendons, muscles and fascia). Dynamic stretching helps to strengthen muscles whilst stretching them, increasing joint stability and reducing the likelihood of injury. The active motion also stimulates nervous system receptors in joints which helps coordination and proprioception. Finally the active movement promotes increased blood flow and heat which prepares the body for the workout. According to the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, dynamic stretching strongly supports running and jumping activities.
These stretches involve lots of movement, rather than holding a pose for a prolonged amount of time and are best performed pre-workout. They prepare the body in multiple ways for the stress we're about to place on it through exercise. Dynamic stretches are also great if you're sitting at a desk or going for a long drive. Your body loves to be moved and nourished so these active stretches can help alleviate the tension of being in the one position for a long period of time. Some examples include:
So what is static stretching?
Quite simply, static stretching is just stretching whilst staying still. It usually involves holding a stretch for a prolonged period of time such as touching your toes. It's considered passive as you're not trying to contract muscles, rather let them relax and lengthen to enhance flexibility. Static stretching is often coupled with deep breathing, helping you recover and relax. So you guessed it, this is best done post workout. In fact multiple journals have shown that this may in fact be detrimental to sports performance if done pre-workout as it doesn't warm up muscles and joints the way dynamic stretching does. It has also been shown to increase injury risk when done pre workout. When done appropriately however, there are multiple benefits of static stretching:
- Stretching at the end of a workout when your muscles are warm can increase your range of motion. Having greater flexibility and range can help you move with more comfort and ease, making everyday tasks easier.
- Research has shown that static stretching post workout can reduce stiffness and pain.
- It can help you relax, especially when paired with mindfulness breathing. This can help with stress and anxiety.
- Boosting the flexibility of your muscles can enhance your agility, speed, and muscle strength.
It is important to note however, that everybody will have different abilities when it comes to stretching. To keep your stretches safe and effective, keep these tips in mind. (source: https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/static-stretching#safety)
- Don’t stretch beyond what’s comfortable. A slight degree of discomfort is normal, but you shouldn’t feel any pain while you’re stretching. Stop right away if you feel sharp pain.
- Be gentle. Use smooth, slow movements. Avoid jerking or bouncing movements while you’re holding a stretch. Be extra cautious if you’re recovering from an injury.
- Don’t forget to breathe. Breathing can help relieve stress and tension in your body, and may also help you hold a stretch for longer.
- Start slowly. Start with just a few stretches at first, and add more repetitions and stretches as you build your flexibility.
What to take away?
It's pretty simple, before working out make sure your stretching is dynamic and involves lots of movement and heat whilst putting your joints through their full range of motion. These include things like lunges with trunk rotations. Perform static stretching post workout when your muscles are warm to enhance flexibility and recovery. These include things like static hamstring stretches where the muscle is relaxing whilst lengthening.
Performing HIIT exercises is fantastic for you however when you complement this with classes such as yoga and Pilates, you can really enhance your athletic performance. From improved posture to better balance and flexibility - stretching has many physical and mental health benefits. We're loving seeing many of you try different classes online that maybe you wouldn't have done pre-lockdown? Lots of things have changed during 2020 and it's great to see people adapting too!