Proper Stretching Technique
Now that we have covered The Health Benefits of Stretching and Flexibility and the Basic Types of Stretching, let us focus on the basics of properly performing stretches. How and when you stretch can have a big impact on how much benefit you can gain from it. The following are some basic guidelines that will help you get the most out of your flexibility program:
Many people mistakenly think that stretching is “warming up.” There is a difference. Stretching is a component of warming up. Stretching alone will not raise your body temperature enough for optimal performance in your planned activity. A full-body warm-up should be performed prior to any stretching activity. Stretching cold muscles may lead to pain and injury. This could be a brisk walk, a light jog, bicycle ride, or any low-level aerobic activity.
When stretching before a sporting event, Dynamic stretching is a better choice than static stretching.
- Begin with gradual mobility exercises of all the joints
- Maintain control. Proper breathing is very important. It helps relax your muscles, increases blood and oxygen flow throughout your body, and helps remove lactic acid buildup. Take deep breaths and do your best to stay relaxed. Exhale as you stretch.
- Avoid bouncing during static stretching. Bouncing can cause small tears in your muscles, which could leave you susceptible to injury.
- Static and dynamic stretching should be pain-free. Pain is different from discomfort. It is normal to feel some slight discomfort. If you don’t feel anything, then you may be doing the stretch incorrectly.
- Go through a routine. Remember to stretch both sides. If you have problems with your memory, start with your legs and work your way up the body so you do not miss any of the stretches.
Dynamic stretches should be activity-specific, meaning each activity/ sport’s stretching routine should be customized to the individual demands of the activity/ sport. They should be the same movements that will be used during the athletic event but at a reduced intensity. Such activity-specific stretching is helpful because it improves coordination, balance, strength, and reaction time, and may reduce the risk of injury. However, a general “core” flexibility program should apply to all sports. These stretches include: Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Calves, Gluteus and Shoulders.
Check while you stretch. The whole point of stretching is to loosen your muscles. Before athletic activities, check to see how loose you are and adjust the duration and intensity of your dynamic stretching. Move on to the next stretch if you are already loose, or keep stretching if you are still tight. Some muscles may be looser or tighter on different days. Stretching all muscles for the same duration and intensity all of the time does not seem to make sense before strenuous activity. Not only can you save time, you can prevent yourself from overstretching the muscles that are relaxed already, which can decrease your risk of injury. Adjusting your stretches to focus on the tighter muscles is just simple logic.
Stretch again. Stretching after a workout can reduce muscle fatigue and soreness. A light warm down after exercise is a more efficient way of eliminating lactic acid in your blood (which causes muscle fatigue and soreness) than complete rest. Start by slowly bringing your heart rate down to normal range. When your heart rate comes back to the normal range, start with acitivity-specific dynamic stretches and end with static stretches. You want to concentrate on the muscles that were used in the activity/ sport.
Lastly, enjoy the effects of a looser, more relaxed body! You will notice that everything you do will seem easier when your muscles are relieved of tension.