If you are anything like me, you barely get enough time in your day for a workout. Stretching gets rushed or altogether skipped. So how essential is stretching? A muscle adapts to your daily function. If sitting for long durations at your computer is part of your daily function, then your muscles will help with the process. By helping, I mean shortening your hamstring, hip flexors, and chest muscles permanently. In time, this leads to significant muscle imbalances. These muscle imbalances will lead to chronic pain, postural deficiencies, and joint problems. Most back pain, knee pain, and shoulder pain come from imbalanced muscles. This article will discuss the benefits of stretching, the best time and way to stretch, and the best muscles to stretch to get the maximum benefits.
Benefits of stretching:
Improved flexibility and range of motion is the most common benefit of regular stretching. Improved flexibility is essential for functional mobility and injury prevention. Another benefit of stretching is improved posture and decreased joint pain. A less known benefit of stretching is improved blood flow throughout the body. Increased blood flow means improved oxygen flow, energy, and improved healing and recovery time.
Best time to stretch
While stretching is an essential component of exercise, the correct time to stretch is just as essential. Stretching a cold muscle can cause more harm than good. If you need to stretch before your workout, warm the muscle up by walking or biking at a low intensity for a few minutes first. Some studies show that stretching before a vigorous workout can decrease the effectiveness of your workout for athletes. This will vary dependent on your intentions behind exercise. You will get more benefits and decrease your injury risk by stretching post-workout. While morning stretching may seem like the right thing to do for your stiff and sore muscles, it’s not ideal. The best way to combat your stiff joints is by using gentle movements. Some good movements are ankle pumps, pelvic tilts, and neck and shoulder rolls. Stretching in the evening is a great way to unwind. Stretching has an excellent relaxation effect and can help destress and get your body ready for a good night's slumber. As we said before, sitting for long durations of time can create postural imbalances. So periodically throughout your day, stand up and take a short walk. When you get back to your desk, stretch it out.
What is the best way to stretch?
When you are stretching, there are guidelines you will want to follow to prevent injury. When stretching, push into the stretch, but not into pain. When it comes to stretching, "no pain, no gain" is a myth! Your muscles have a stretch reflex. Once your muscles trigger the stretch reflex, your muscles will naturally contract and work against your stretch. Stretching beyond this point can damage your muscles. Studies show that holding each stretch 3-5 times at 30 seconds each is sufficient for elongating a muscle. Some prefer a longer hold time of 2-3 minutes per stretch which is fine. Practices like yin yoga hold a stretch for 5-10 minutes each. You will want to avoid quick ballistic or bouncing movements with your stretches. This type of stretching can cause injury to your muscles. You can stretch as often as you would like. Taking stretching breaks throughout your day is always beneficial.
What type of stretches is best?
If you are looking for stretches that hold the most benefit, stick to your bigger postural muscles. There are additional stretches you can do however, these stretches will address the chronically tight muscles for most Americans.
Hamstring stretch: Sit at the edge of your seat or on the floor. Place one leg straight out in front of you. Do not hyper-extend your knee; keep a gentle bend. Keep your back straight and your chest forward; hinge forward from your hips. You will want to stop as soon as you feel a pulling in the back of your leg. Hold for 30 sec and repeat on the other side.
Quad stretch: There are many ways to do a quad stretch. My favorite way is to kneel onto one knee. Put your knee on a chair or the floor. Place a pillow or towel under your knee for added comfort. Your opposite leg should be in front with your foot planted on the floor. Press your pelvis forward until you feel a stretch in the front of the kneeling leg. Hold for 30 sec and repeat on the other side.
· Chest stretch: Find a doorway to stand in. Place both of your arms open wide into the doorway. You can play around with your arm placement, moving them up and down the doorway, bending your elbows, or keeping your arms straight. Step your body forward, placing a stretch across the front of your stretch into your shoulders. Be mindful that you are not arching your low back. Keep your core embraced. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat a few times.
There are many other stretches for different injuries and ailments. Most joint pain can be improved or eliminated with appropriate strengthening and stretching. Physical therapy is a great way to start. Wellness 360 can evaluate your joint pain and give you appropriate exercises and individualized treatments for you and your needs. For more information, check out www.wellness360fitness.com.