There’s one part of the ideal workout program that typically gets the short end of the stick, or is nonexistent, and that is stretching. I think all of us have been guilty of finishing a great cardio or strength training session and then simply rushing off to the rest of our day. The very least we should do after every workout is stretch the muscles we targeted in that workout. In group classes instructors are trained to do this effectively even in a short window of time. Unfortunately we often see a good percentage of members leave immediately after the “work”. We know how short “me” time is and it’s hard to fit everything in but if you leave you should plan on doing your own stretching series. If by chance you don’t see flexibility as too important you will eventually pay for the oversight. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you consider putting some focus on this area this month.
The most common type of stretching we do is assisted or passive stretching. This is when you use some sort of outside assistance to achieve the stretch, which might be your hand, a strap, your body weight, gravity, maybe even another person. One concern with this is it is easy to apply too much force and cause injury so you must always be aware of the amount of tension being applied and how your body is responding.
Unassisted stretching is when you contract one side of the body in order to stretch the opposite muscle group. You probably do this after working on the computer when you contract your upper back muscles to sit straight, which in turns stretches, the muscles of the chest, front shoulders and abs. This type isn’t as popular since you can’t achieve as much force in the stretch but the great thing is you can actually make gains in your strength at the same time you stretch.
Another concept to keep in mind is the difference between static and dynamic stretching. Static stretching requires holding a position to allow the muscle time to respond and lengthen. We typically recommend holding a stretch for 10 to 30 seconds for best results. Dynamic stretching happens when you move through a range of motion at a joint with control and purpose. This method has fantastic performance benefits since it often happens automatically in sports. As fitness trainers we still discourage the use of ballistic or bouncing stretches because of the associated risks. It may seem like a faster more energetic method but it isn’t worth it in the long run.
Stretching can reduce the tension in the muscles, which can actually help you build strength and endurance and keep the joints mobile and lubricated. It is important to balance your stretch sequence from front to back, right to left, and include some rotational movement. Moving through multiple plane positions will be ideal in finding tightness and imbalance. So go for variety and mix it up. Try doing a stretch type, for instance hamstring stretch, in different positions: on back, kneeling, sitting and standing. Each position will offer different support and help you learn how to stabilize the stretching joint and other parts of the body. Stretching for balanced flexibility, top to bottom, will become a huge benefit and perfect addition to your training program. See you on the mats!!