For many of us, the arrival of spring means a return to a more active lifestyle. For those of us who have been active throughout the winter, it’s about transitioning from winter to spring/summer activities. In either case though, one of the keys to avoiding injury and maximizing enjoyment is stretching properly before and after being physically active.
Stretching loosens and increases blood flow to tight muscles, which increases their overall range of motion and prepares them for periods of sudden or extended expansion and contraction. As we age, our muscles become less and less resilient, which means our range of motion decreases. Engaging in any sort of activity that pushes our muscles outside of this limited range of motion without stretching them out first increases the likelihood of pulling, tearing or otherwise injuring a muscle or tendon. Even if an injury does occur, the increased blood flow can actually help to reduce the recovery time. Of course, the other benefit to increasing your range of motion by stretching is improving your ability to perform whatever activity you’re engaged in – which, of course, only makes it that much more enjoyable!
Warm Up First: Prior to stretching, it’s important to do some form of a mild aerobic warm up first to get the blood flowing. You should never stretch a cold muscle.
Dynamic vs. Static Stretches: Once warmed up, you should focus on slow, controlled movements (dynamic stretches) vs. staying still & holding a position (static stretching). Dynamic stretching tells your muscles to get ready for activity whereas static stretching prepares muscles to shut down (good as part of your cool down).
Consider Your Particular Activity: Focus on major muscle groups such as your calves, hips, thighs, back, neck and shoulders but pay particular attention to those used most during your particular activity and stretch both sides equally.
Forget “No Pain, No Gain”: Dynamic stretching should start gently & progress and static stretching should go to “intense” but neither should EVER involve pain.
Try Reciprocal Inhibition: When doing your static stretching (its purpose is to increase range of motion) after your exercise, try flexing the muscle opposite to the one you’re trying to stretch to further relax your target muscle and increase your overall range.
Stretching prior to working out is important to improve performance, avoid injury and enjoy the benefits of living an active lifestyle. Of course, regular stretching – 2 to 3 times per week even when not working out – is also important to help maintain flexibility and range of motion. Of course, if you need help, don’t hesitate to let us know. Remember, at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here!