When, How and Why Do We Stretch?

When, How and Why Do We Stretch?

I have been in the fitness industry for 23 years and I have taught all manner of class formats including yoga, cycle, water aerobics, STEP, and many more.  One thing we instructors have always included in our classes is some type of stretching.  Over the years, and with the increase of new information, we have changed the way we stretch in class.  For example, we used to do stretches before class after a short warm up.  This is no longer a usual part of the workout, we typically stretch at the end of class.  But what is the most effective way or ways to stretch our bodies, and why do we do it?  With the holidays around the corner and the return to the gym of many a person, these questions need to be answered.

According to ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), “we should be stretching each of the major muscle groups at least two times a week for 60 seconds per exercise”.  I think these guidelines need to be boiled down a bit to garner a better understanding.

Lynn Millar, PhD, physical therapist and professor at Winston-Salem State University, espouses that regular stretching can help keep your hips and hamstrings flexible later in life.  But even so, what are the best ways to stretch?

Web MD says the following are all NO longer correct nor useful for the fitness world:

  • You have to hold a stretch to get the benefit.
  • Don’t bounce in the stretch — you’ll tear your muscle (OK-you still should not “bounce” but dynamic is ok, see below)
  • If you don’t stretch before workout, you’ll hurt yourself.

Fine, so what is the deal?  Actually, bouncing is really NOT good, but Dynamic stretching can be, read on.  Live Well suggests the following routine for a quick, post work-out stretch routine that should take 5 minutes or so:

5 Minute Stretching Routine

These are static stretches and they are perfectly fine.  But we can also employ dynamic, or moving, stretches which are also great.  You often see these in a yoga class, for example.  Dynamic stretches can be used as a warm-up before your workout.  Here is a great video that describes the differences between Static and Dynamic stretching and when they should be employed.  This is just informative, no real examples are provided but the content is great:

Static vs Dynamic Stretching

Now that we know a little more about stretching and we have seen some static stretches (which are done after your work out).  What are some great dynamic stretches to perform prior to exercising?  This depends on what you are about to do for exercise.  If you are young the dynamic stretches you perform will be quite different from those you would do when you are, say, above 50.  Let me give you a few examples.  In the following video you will see dynamic stretches for the younger population (warning:  may be unsuitable for those over 50 especially if you are just beginning a fitness routine):

Advanced Dynamic Pre-Workout Stretching

So this chick is good but doesn’t give you a lot of information as how to perform these functions safely.  Still, interesting and good stuff to know.

The following is a dynamic stretching routine made for older adults.  In fact, it may be too rudimentary for many folks.  But if you are a beginner, this one is for you:

Beginner Dynamic Pre-workout Stretches

So what about post-workout stretches?  I do suggest Hatha-based yoga classes as a great post-workout stretch routine.  But what if you haven’t got the time nor the interest?  Well there is the 5 minute stretching routing above that is adequate.  Also, here is a great website with links to videos that provides clear instructions; however, it is quite basic.  Still, I feel the information is good and should be included here, though it is clearly for older populations:

Elder Stretching Exercises

Here is a video that is for a younger, older population that may be of more interest to some.  These are pretty basic stretches.  Remember, when weight bearing on any joint, always keep that joint very slightly bent.  It is not safe to weight bear on a locked, completely straightened, joint:

Static Stretches Post Work-Out

As always, listen to your body.  You should never experience pain when stretching.  You may experience tightness but definitely not pain.  Also, before beginning a new fitness or stretching routine, is it best to talk to your doctor to be sure what you are doing is best for you.  Everyone is different and each person can experience various, physical limitations.  If you chose to work with a Personal Trainer, be sure to select one that is trained to work with older populations.  I do not want to besmirch any of the young trainers; but, unless they have specifically been trained to work with older populations, they could do more harm than good to your fitness routine.  Injuries are never good, they set you back and can be discouraging which, in the end, limits your fitness success.

Start your fitness routine now!  Before the holidays hit!  As always, keep moving.  Whether you walk, do the recumbent bike, the Elliptical or take a fitness class, keep up your physical activity and stretching at least 4 times a week or more.  If you are a beginner, start slow so as not to become discouraged.  I see it all the time where people push too hard, get achy, or injured and give up.  Start slow and work your way up to 4 times a week, especially if you are a beginner.  You will feel better and see results.  You will also sleep better at night.  Please feel free to ask me any questions about the above information.

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” –  John F. Kennedy

(Picture courtesy of Silver Sneakers.  I am certified to teach this format.)

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