|Stretching puts a smile on your face|
So where do I stand, er sit, on stretching? I’m a big proponent of stretching and it’s a huge part of my wellness routine when I’m not being bad and skimping out on my post workout regimen (as quoted in this Bustle feature). Anecdotally, I attribute proper stretching to a broad range of my athletic accomplishments and current capabilities. Plus, I have seen tangible improvements in workouts and well-being in my clients who stretch (I stretch them myself to ensure they do it).
Studies have shown that the major benefit of stretching is maintaining or increasing range of motion through a joint. Is that it? What about injury prevention and improved performance? Well the science is a little more undecided on those two things, with some studies showing gains and improvements, others none and even a few showing adverse effects. Where does that leave you and what you should do? Here are my takeaways for what is most commonly accepted and administered to athletes today.
- A pre-workout, race or game routine should include a cardiovascular component to warm the body up and get blood flowing, followed by a sequence of dynamic exercises to prime and stretch the range of motions used in competition. (Keep an eye out for our upcoming “Dynamic” warm-up video, a great go to guide on how to prime yourself for a competitive event or intense workout)
- Following a race, game, competition or workout it’s then prescribed to do a cool down cardiovascular routine to re-warm-up the body, get blood flowing and slowly stretch back out tightened muscles. During a strenuous activity muscle fibers can become overly contracted. If not properly stretched and smoothed the fibers can be more prone to pulls, tears and a shortening of their range of motion. That’s where a good full body static stretch routine performed while the body is still warm from your cool down can be most beneficial, because your muscles are most receptive at that point.
There are four commonly referenced stretching methods: Static, Ballistic, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) and Dynamic. For the purposes of this post I’m going to focus in on static. Static stretching is further divided into three subcategories (1. Slow and steady with a partner aka “passive”, 2. slow and steady by one’s self aka “self-stretching”, and 3. slow and constant with/against an object aka “isometric”).
A visual to bring together the need and benefits of stretching is to think about having a full long stride length during a sprint. That long stride requires a range of motion through multiple joints, like the ankle, knee, hip and back. As you fatigue during a sprint, your muscles tighten, shortening your stride. This decrease in range of motion coupled with the energy depletion and accumulation of muscle contraction waste products, decrease the power, speed and length of your stride forcing you to slow down. Even after you stop, your muscles remain stressed and overly contracted. A proper cardiovascular and post workout stretch routine addresses these issues.