It’s not very often that you hear someone say, “I’d rather stretch than workout.” As a society, we put more of an emphasis on our strengthening routines, not our stretching routines.
While exercising is important, stretching is needed, too! If you have been skipping the stretching component of your workouts, it’s time to start making time for it.
Why is Stretching Important?
If you’ve been skipping the stretching component of your exercise routine and have noticed a lack of range of motion in your joints or are experiencing joint pain or strains, you are going to want to give stretching a try.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, “Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints.” Stretching helps to elongate the muscles, preventing them from shortening and becoming tight. When an active individual neglects stretching leading to the shortening and tightening of the muscle, they put themselves at a greater risk of injury. As an example, if you are a runner who is experiencing tightness in your muscles and you never stretch, when you go to sprint, you are more likely to damage a muscle, like the hamstring, because the muscle cannot fully extend. When you take off in a sprint, you are forcing the muscle to fully stretch (maybe for the first time in an extended period of time) which leads to muscle damage.
Additionally, stretching could positively impact your recovery time. Studies show that stretching can improve your circulation which increases blood flow to your muscles. It is believed that increased blood flow to the muscles after strenuous activity can shorten your recovery time and, also, reduce muscles soreness.
The Essentials of Stretching
Stretching is only beneficial if done properly! The good news? You can stretch almost anywhere without additional equipment or assistance. So, how can you stretch safely?
Static stretching isn’t a warm-up! - It is a common misconception that many athletes hear that you should stretch before activity. While stretching is important, there are certain stretches that can be done when the muscles are cold, known as dynamic stretching. This would include things like Frankenstein’s and high-knees, not static stretches like a hamstring or calf stretch.
No pain – no gain does not apply to stretching! - In physical therapy, the “no-pain, no-gain" motto doesn’t apply in general. However, it really does not apply in stretching! If at any time a stretch is painful, it is not helping you. In an effective stretch, you may notice some tension which is appropriate, but not pain. If you begin to experience pain, you’ve likely gone too far.
It doesn’t take long! - Stretching doesn’t have to take long. Hold each stretch for approximately 30-60 seconds and repeat up to three times.
Practice symmetry in stretching – If you stretch the left side, stretch the right side and visa versa. By only stretching one side, you create an in-balance in the body which could lead to injury. Take the time to stretch both sides evenly.
Equipment is not needed – We have all been sold on something that we don’t need and stretching mechanisms are no exception. Perhaps the best thing about stretching is that you don’t need equipment to do it properly. There are ways so stretch every muscle of the body without additional equipment. If equipment is needed for something like the hamstring, there are common household items that can be used to assist you (i.e. a towel, dog leash, belt, etc.).
You can do it by yourself – While assisted stretching may be nice, you don’t need someone to help you stretch. If you need a more intense stretch than what you are able to do by yourself, you are either doing the stretch wrong OR simply need a modification to the stretch so you get the deeper stretch.
It doesn’t take much room – No matter where you are, there is enough space for you to stretch. That’s a great thing about stretching – you don’t need a large amount of space to stretch effectively. In fact, we encourage our patients who travel often to stretch on the airplane to keep blood circulating.
Stretch regularly – Stretching once isn’t going to cut it! Make stretching a regular part of your routine and keep it up!
Bouncing doesn’t help! - Have you ever witnessed someone stretching and they bounce their way through it. In a piriformis stretch, you see their legging bouncing up and down? There is no added benefit to bouncing. In fact, you could hurt yourself.
Static stretch AFTER your workout – We mentioned earlier that static stretching should not be done BEFORE a workout. However, it is appropriate and is recommended AFTER your workout or other activity. This would include things like a hamstring stretch, calf stretch, or quad stretch.
If not working out, stretch morning or night – If working out isn’t your thing or you aren’t able to workout that day, start or end your day with some static stretching.
Stretching is an important part of your exercise routine. If you begin stretching regularly and are still experiencing pain in your joint, it may be time to consult with a professional as you may actually have an injury as opposed to tightness.
If you need some ideas on ways to stretch appropriately, we are here to help! Especially if you have an ongoing injury and can’t find a stretch that doesn’t cause pain. Send us an email and we’d be happy to help you out!'
Harvard Health Publishing, "The Importance of Stretching," September 2013, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching