There are so many benefits to stretching. Not only will stretching increase your flexibility, but you will have enhanced balance and coordination, improved circulation, better posture, and less stress. However if you’re not careful, you can injure or over extend your muscles.
At what point in your workout is it best to stretch?
One great thing about stretching is that you can do it anywhere, at any point of your day, and you don’t need any equipment, just yourself!
- Doing a light stretch in the morning, right when you wake up will get your blood pumping and make you feel awake, happy, and ready for the day.
- Take a break at work to knock out a few stretches to relieve your back, wrists, neck, and shoulders. This will help you stay free and focused!
- Stretching before a workout is very important, but make sure you warm up with a light jog or jumping-jack first so you don’t strain cold muscles!
- After a workout is perhaps the most important time to stretch. This is when you are most flexible, and it will help you cool down, prevent soreness, and recover from your workout.
- A relaxing stretch before bed is an easy, natural way to help yourself fall asleep faster and sleep better.
How long should you spend on each stretch?
There is a lot of debate over exactly how long to hold a stretch. However, the general consensus is that you should hold a static stretch (see below paragraph) for about 30 seconds. The reason for this is that science has shown that stretching for less that 20 seconds does not have a significant enough effect, but stretching for too long can be harmful to your muscles.
Which stretches are the best?
There are seven different categories for stretching, but the two most common are static and dynamic stretching. A static stretch is where you stay in one place and hold each stretch for a certain amount of time. Static stretching is better for after a workout because it helps reduce muscle tension and return your body to a state of relaxation and a great way to cool down. Static stretches include:
- Hamstring stretch: Sit down with your legs extended in front of you. Lean forward trying to bring your chest to your knees.
- Quad stretch: Find your balance (you can use a wall) and grab your foot up behind you, keeping your knees close together.
- Groin stretch: Sit on the ground with your heels touching in front of you. Lean forward with your elbows putting pressure on your knees to further the stretch.
- Bicep stretch: Hold one arm straight across your chest while the other hand hooks around your elbow to further the stretch.
- Tricep stretch: Bring one arm up over your hand reaching for your back. Use your other hand to gently push down on your elbow.
Dynamic stretching is great to do as a warm-up to your workout. It is a type of strecthing done while moving within your range of motion. You gently push your range of motion limits through repetitive movement. Dynamic stretching helps increase bloodflow, range of motion, and your overall athletic performance. Dynamic stretches include:
- Lunges: Taking a large step forward until your back knee almost touches the ground
- Leg swings: Swing one leg forward and backward
- High knees: Walking/jogging forward while trying to bring your knees to your chest
- Butt kicks: Walking/jogging forward while trying to touch your heel to your behind.
There are many variations of stretches for each part of the body. You can figure out which ones are the best for you through practice and speaking with athletic professionals (trainers, coaches, etc.), but make sure to stretch all of the major muscle groups and to switch your stretches up from time to time.
The most important thing about stretching is to keep doing it! Don’t get discouraged because you can’t touch your toes or follow along with all the moves of an expert contortionist. We can’t either! The great thing about stretching is that the more you do it, the better you get at it. Set a goal and push yourself (but not hard enough to strain your muscles) and you will be sure to succeed!