Stretching 101

By 5:23 PM

This morning I woke up sore, I could barely make it down the stairs without having to twist my legs into an awkward position that would at least ease the pain a little. Admittingly, it has been a while since my I have woken up with aching muscles after a hard workout, and while I like knowing that I have worked out hard, I would avoid such discomforts. 

A wise cross country coach once told me that the number one remedy to prevent soreness is to stretch. And boy do I hate to stretch. Its the tedious task that one must do after working out because we have been told to repetitively during P.E. class. But lets be honest, it takes time, and after a hard workout that last thing anyone wants to do is sit around in weird positions and stretch! Rather, us gym junkies want to hop in the shower or grab a post workout smoothie. 

Unfortunately, stretching is inevitable, and perhaps its many benefits will help you appreciate this seemingly mundane task, and encourage you to get bendy!

In Q&A fashion, lets talk all about stretching?

1. Stretching is important, I get it, but why exactly?

To put it simply, stretching = increase flexibility. Flexibility allows for a greater range of motion in the joints,keeping your muscles healthy and strong, and helping you to move better through the various exercises. Stretching is also great for improving balance. 

2. Okay, but I'm tired, can't I just skip the stretching?

Without stretching, your muscles will stay tight and weak, and will be unable to extend when you do an activity. So when your muscles suddenly have to more while running or playing football, they can become strained and put you at risk of joint pain, strains and muscle damage1.  

3. So which should I do: Dynamic or static stretching? 

Dynamic stretching is when you perform various exercises before working out like skipping, high knees, walking lunges etc. This is essentially the "warm up." According to Alex hutchinson, author of 'Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?,' "Warming up with 'dynamic' stretching exercises raises the temperature of muscles and prepares them for exertion but doesn't decrease strength, power, speed, or endurance." Dynamic stretching is a great way to "prep" your body before you start your workout. Try adding a 5 minute, 5 moves circuit before you start a workout routing. An example would be 1 minute of jumping jacks, high knees, walking lunges, butt kicks and mummy kicks. 

Static Stretching is the traditional stretching of the muscles when the body is at rest. These include hamstring stretches, back twists, child's pose etc. Static stretches should be performed after a workout. 

4. Should I stretch before or after working out?

Dynamic stretching should be done before a workout as a warm up. Static stretching should be performed after every workout, during recovery. 

5. How long should I hold a stretch for? 

One mississippi, two mississippi, three mississippi……up to 30 mississippi! You should hold the stretch long enough, which is between 20 to 30 seconds. Remember not to bounce and just hold the stretch! It won't hurt I promise! If it does…. get a doctor! 

Also remember to breath deeply while you stretch. Don't hold your breath. 

6. 30 seconds? Got that, but now, for how long? 

You only need to reserve 5 to 10 minutes for stretching. Don't think of it as a chore, instead think of it as a reward for having worked hard! Your muscles will definitely feel that way! Also you can stretch anywhere and at anytime, so while you watch TV, get bendy! While you cook, get bendy! While you talk on the phone… you guessed it, get bendy! 

7. How many stretches should I do in total?

I honestly have no answer for this question. What I typically do though is just stretch all the major muscle groups that I have used. 

Below is an example stretching sequence that I may do after boxing:

  • time: 5 minutes, each stretch held for 30 seconds
  • sequence:
    • upper body: 
      • shoulder stretch
      • triceps stretch 
    • back and core
      • cobra 
      • lower back stretch 
    • legs:
      • hamstring stretch 
        • middle
        • left
        • right
      • quadricep stretch
    • hips:
      • hip opener
      • inner thigh stretch 

There are thousands of different kinds of stretches that you can try to keep each stretch routine interesting. I understand, believe me, that stretching can be tedious, but it is essential to staying healthy and strong on your journey to fitness. You can also always try a Yoga or Pilates class, which have shown to have many benefits beyond the ones mentioned above! 

Stay on the lookout for an upcoming stretching sequence guide that I will be making soon, featuring pictures and stretching sequences!

I hope you learnt something today, and that you begin to incorporate stretching into your workouts! 

Works cited:
1) "The Importance Of Stretching." Harvard Health Letter 38.11 (2013): 4. Academic Search Complete. Web. 22 May 2014.
2)Hutchinson, Alex. Which comes first, cardio or weights?: fitness myths, training truths, and other surprising discoveries from the science of exercise. New York: HarperCollins, 2011. Print.

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