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Healthy Stretching

The rules have shifted concerning stretching. It’s one of the best things about humanity: our ability to learn new things, admit mistakes, and change. I played soccer as a kid and I remember stretching my calves before every game until they burned. One coach had us bounce the muscles to get more out of each stretch. All wrong.

Stretching used to be the first thing you did before any type of workout or physical activity. Now we know that stretching cold muscles before a workout actually increases the risk of injury in the form of pulled, strained, and torn muscles. Your warm up routine is more important and beneficial than stretching to get the muscles ready for a workout, run, or sport.

This doesn’t mean stretching no longer holds a place in training or recovery. Doing stretches after a workout, when the muscles are warm, has plenty of benefits. It increases flexibility, aids posture, relaxes muscles, improves coordination, helps circulation, and speeds recovery. There are still some things to remember when it comes to proper stretching.

It should never hurt. There should be tension when stretching, but not pain. Pain is the body’s way of saying something isn’t right. Listen to it. Back off the stretch until you are comfortable and then hold it. Stretches should be held longer than just a couple seconds. Aim for somewhere between 10 and 30 seconds. This will sufficiently lengthen the muscle so it can relax. You can gradually increase tension the whole time, just don’t make it hurt. Also don’t bounce or bob. My soccer coach was mistaken. This can severely damage muscles and even lead to scarring.

Breathing is important during any part of any work out. Stretching is no exception. Breathe deeply and evenly as you stretch. Your muscles need the fresh oxygen as they recover.

Focus on major muscle groups and also stretch for the specific sport or activity you just completed. Give your calves, thighs, hips, back, neck, and shoulders a little time and then stretch the muscles and joints you use often. Don’t forget to stretch both sides of each muscle group. Just because you’re right handed, doesn’t mean you can ignore your left side.

Cool down routines are also important. They let the muscles relax and recover while your partially elevated circulation nourishes cells and carries away toxins. Don’t just end a work out, stretch, and be done. That’s a shock to the system. Slow it down with some walking or light exercise so your body, your heart, and your breathing can slowly go back to normal.

If you want to see even more benefits from stretching, pair it with light, fluid movement to build flexibility, coordination, and balance. Try yoga or tai chi to get the most out of stretching possible.

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