Stay Supple - Stretching for Everyone
BY JOHN HARRIS FITNESS
A highly debated area in fitness theory is stretching. Should you stretch before or after a workout? Should you stretch with muscle tension or while completely relaxed? Should you opt for static or dynamic stretching? Let's clear things up for you!
The Benefits of a Well-Stretched Muscle
A well-stretched muscle increases your range of motion, helping you perform movements with greater freedom and amplitude. This not only enhances your personal fitness but also benefits your daily life. Sedentary behavior, desk jobs, or improper footwear can lead to muscular imbalances that targeted stretching can counteract.
In the past, stretching was attributed with various additional functions that were never scientifically proven. You've probably heard these stretching myths before:
- Myth 1: Stretching before running prevents injuries.
While some people feel loosened up by gentle stretching before cardio training, stretching doesn't replace a proper warm-up and doesn't protect against overexertion.
- Myth 2: Stretching must always be static.
Until the 1990s, static stretching was believed to be safe for muscles. Today, we know that both static and dynamic stretching have their advantages. For warming up, dynamic forms are preferred, but the end position of muscle stretching shouldn't be too intense.
- Myth 3: Stretching enhances muscle recovery.
Muscle soreness results from minor injuries in the muscles. Intensively pulling the muscles apart doesn't aid recovery.
Different Types of Stretching
- Static Stretching: In traditional stretching exercises, a stretching position is assumed and held passively for about 20-30 seconds. Muscles remain relaxed and are held in position by gravity, aids, or a partner.
- Active Static Stretching: Currently considered highly effective, this method involves holding the stretch using the muscle power of the antagonistic muscle. This not only stretches the muscle but also strengthens it, resembling the muscle's everyday use.
Various approaches combine active and passive forms. For instance, the stretch might be briefly held, released, and then resumed.
Dynamic stretching is performed in motion. Controlled and slow execution is crucial in dynamic stretching. While muscles can be passively stretched in dynamic stretching too, the key difference is that the stretch is performed in continuous movement and not held in a single position.
All methods have their advantages for different purposes. However, it's crucial to warm up your muscles before you start stretching. While passive stretching allows you to achieve a deeper stretch, active forms directly train the muscles in motion.
Pre-Workout and Post-Workout Stretching
Avoid intense stretching before a workout, as it can negatively impact the speed of your muscles. Instead, opt for dynamic stretching before your exercise to fully utilize your range of motion afterward.
After your workout, your muscles are well warmed-up, and the risk of injury during stretching is lower. Now, static stretching can simultaneously relax and be effective. Remember to stretch both sides evenly and align your stretching goals with your sport-specific needs. Not everyone needs to master the splits.