By Paul Kochoa, PT, DPT, CGFI
Most people engaged in their own fitness programs at the gym generally aren’t fond of stretching. They view it as either boring or time consuming. Big mistake. Lack of flexibility can result in an increased risk of developing tendonitis, bursitis or even lower back pain. Strength is nothing without flexibility. The two go hand in hand. Proper flexibility improves quality of movement, posture, decreases tension and stress, and can even prevent injury. Again, think about STABILITY and MOBILITY, as described in many of my previous posts on this site.
There are different types of stretching. One thing to keep in mind is that a cold muscle doesn’t like stretching. A warm muscle is much more pliable and receptive to stretches. So make sure you’re warmed up a bit before you stretch. However that doesn’t mean that you leave your stretching session to the end of your workout routine. You can start with gentle dynamic stretching, include some active stretching during the workout session, and then end with static stretching at the end of your session.
Dynamic stretching is done with functional movement on multiple planes. Stretch positions aren’t held for too long and they help warm up your body, increase blood flow, and increase tissue elasticity. Active stretching is similar to dynamic stretching. It involves actively contracting and relaxing muscles to increase tissue stretch and elasticity. It can involve alternating contraction and relaxation of one muscle, or contraction of one muscle and the relaxation of the opposite side muscle. Static stretching involves no contraction and end range sustained relaxed positions for 30 seconds. It promotes overall flexibility and movement. Static stretching can be done at the end of the workout session.
Breathing is important when you stretch. Exhale into the stretch to allow the muscle and surrounding tissue to elongate and lengthen. Relax the muscles and as the time ticks away, concentrate on the improved flexibility and suppleness gained at the end range of motion. This increased elasticity can improve your mobility and efficiency of movement.
A couple of flexibility and movement websites that I like to visit is MobilityWOD, a daily video blog that offers a wide variety of self soft tissue work and stretches; and CrossFit, a website for advanced exercises that stress both mobility and stability. If you have any websites that you visit regularly for your exercise and fitness needs, drop a line here in the comments. We’d love to hear from you. And remember to keep on stretching.