Most people who take part in regular physical activity know the importance of stretching their muscles to avoid injuring themselves. However, it is not as simple as doing a few token lunges and squats to warm your muscles up. In fact, when and how you stretch can make all the difference in getting your body ready for a workout, so you don’t end up harming yourself.
- Why is it important to stretch?
While we have all learnt we need to stretch during a workout, many of us might not fully understand why.
The truth is it helps muscles stay strong, healthy and flexible, so they are able to move more easily and do not stiffen, shorten or tighten, enabling us to continue exercising without causing any harm.
According to the NHS: “Stretching for sport and exercise improves flexibility, which increases the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion; in other words, how far it can bend, twist and reach.”
- When to stretch?
Many people might be used to stretching at the beginning of an exercise routine, as they think this will warm up their muscles. However, it is more effective to stretch after your muscles are already warm, as doing so when they are cold and stiff could actually put strain on them.
Healthline recommends doing stretches a few minutes into a workout after you have warmed up slightly. Alternatively, you could do some stretching at the end of exercise when the muscles are loose and more flexible. This will also help alleviate any soreness you might experience the next day after an intense workout.
It suggests that muscles are more flexible at the end of the day, which is why those who want to do a stretching routine on its own will find it more impactful to do so in the evening.
- What type of stretching is best?
You might be familiar with stretching a muscle and holding it for 30 seconds or so, but this is just one way you can stretch your body. In addition to static stretches, you could do dynamic stretches, which involves repetitive movements while increasing the range of motion; bouncing stretches that sees you conduct jerking movements to stretch the body further; or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). This means holding a stretch while contracting and relaxing the muscle.
While they are all effective at stretching out any tension in the body, you might want to adapt the stretches depending on what type of exercise you are doing.
For instance, WebMD recommends doing dynamic stretches before a run, as this helps warm up the body. It states: “Static stretching before exercise can weaken performance, such as sprint sped, in studies. The most likely reason is that holding the stretch tires out your muscles.”
Instead, static stretching could be done after the workout in the case of intense cardiovascular activity. However, it is ideal for yoga or pilates that sees you hold poses to increase suppleness and strength in the body.
If you are prone to injury in certain muscles, stretching would certainly help, but it is also important to see a professional sports therapist in Maidenhead who can treat the problem, so you are able to carry on with you activity for longer.