Everyone knows about the need to stretch, but most people prefer to skip the stretching and get to the good stuff. After all, stretching doesn’t help you get stronger, faster, or better-does it? Actually, the answer may surprise you. Because whether you’re lifting weights, playing volleyball, or running a few miles, stretching may mean the difference between a good time and a bad injury.
So what do you need to do to get the best stretch for your body, how much is enough, and when should you stretch your body’s limbs? Keep reading to find out.
A good stretch is one that is slow and steady. If you want to hop on the fast track to injury, jerk during your movements and bounce the entire time. But if you’re more interested in avoiding injury, take your stretching nice and slow. When you feel the pressure of the stretch, pause and hold for a few seconds. Don’t go until it is painful.
You should also stretch out all the body parts you plan to use. In most cases, this involves stretching the arms, legs, back and neck. On occasion, very specific stretches catered to a sport are required, but for most instances, stretching out the large muscles suffices.
Now that you know the need for stretching, you may be wondering how much is enough? Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. For some, adequate stretching takes only a few minutes. For others, it takes longer. The secret is to know your body and to feel when stretching has done its job. Does your body feel flexible and ready to move to the left and right as needed? Then you’ve stretched enough. But if you still feel stiff and movement is hampered, keep stretching those muscles and ligaments until they’re ready to respond to the demands you’re about to put on them.
It’s best to stretch only before your workout right? Dead wrong. Static stretching (regular stretching) before a workout doesn’t really do that much. What we need to be focused on before a workout is warming up the muscle and leaving the stretching of the muscle until after the workout.
The first part? Warming up. This is best done by gently going through the motions of whatever exercise or sport you are about to participate in. Going to lift weights? Do some light lifting (think barbell only). About to play basketball? Shoot a few free throws and jog to the hoop gently for some lay-ups. Use this time to get your body warmed up and loose. Once you’ve done this, your muscles will respond more readily and safely to stretching.
Finally, stretching your muscles after you’re finished exercising helps maintain good blood flow and repairs the muscles you’ve just injured over and over during your routine. All this on top of increasing your flexibility and range of motion. Win, win, and win.
While all body parts should be stretched for the best results and the most balanced benefit that would take all day and become inefficient really fast. You can however keep the ‘BIG 4’ when it comes to stretching to make sure that you have all your bases covered and all the large and small muscle groups get some attention. You can do each of these stretches for 60 seconds for best results.
1. Chest and shoulders – put your arm up at 90 degrees on a wall and lean forward to feel a light stretch.
2. Quads – stand up tall and with one leg at a time grab the top of your foot and pull to your glutes.
3. Hamstrings – sitting on the ground, extend both feet out and straighten your legs. Gently lean forward and touch your toes.
4. Shoulder joint range of motion – grab an exercise band, a broom handle or a dowel for this one. Place both hands on it with wide stance and do arm circles that the dowel, etc. so that it touches your front hips all the way around to your glutes. There you have it. Start with these basics and work your way up, you can do this!
Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.