You may only associate stretching with runners or gymnasts, but the fact of the matter is that we should all be stretching our muscles regularly.
There are two main types of stretches – static stretching and dynamic stretching. These both have their own techniques and purposes, which we’ll get into in a moment. First, let’s look at why you want to be stretching in the first place.
What are the benefits of stretching?
What type of stretching you do will depend on many factors, such as your age, lifestyle, fitness level, injuries, illness, and workout goals. Within these limits, be sure to stretch to the best of your ability, because it’s important.
Stretching helps keep the muscles strong, flexible, and healthy. You need your muscles healthy to maintain a proper range of motion within the joints. If your muscles aren’t being stretched, over time they can become tight and weak. As a result, they can fail you when you call upon them, causing joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
Regular stretching allows the muscles to be prepared for possible exertion. This can support mobility as you age and allow you to be independent for longer.
Which muscles are best to stretch?
The body is full of muscles, so daily stretching may seem daunting and time consuming. But you really only need to focus on the muscles that are critical for mobility. These areas include your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors in the pelvis, quadriceps in the front of the thigh, shoulders, neck, and lower back.
If you’re concerned about your muscles, and you’re not sure where to start, definitely take it slow. In this case, it may be best to consult a trainer or physical therapist. They will be able to tailor a stretching routine to your situation. If you have an illness or injury, it’s best to consult your doctor before beginning a stretching routine.
Outside of that, aim for a stretching regimen that has you stretching these primary muscles at least three times a week, but ideally every day. Look online, in books, or consult a trainer for specific stretches and proper techniques. The last thing you want to do is overexert your muscles or joints.
Dynamic stretching vs static stretching
The main difference between dynamic and static stretching is right there in the names. Static stretching is extending your muscles with limited motion, whereas dynamic achieves the task with motion.
Let’s take a look at both and when you should use them…
Dynamic stretches are best done before a workout to warm up. They’re intended to take you to the end of your natural range and back again, increasing blood flow and preparing your muscles for work.
An example would be straight-leg high-kicks. This is when you stand as tall as you can and kick one leg forward as high as possible while keeping your knee straight. This contracts your hip flexor muscles and stretches your hamstring.
It’s important to remember when doing dynamic stretches that you’re moving to the end of your natural range of motion without pushing any farther. The goal is to feel a light stretch in your targeted muscle and joint without overdoing it.
That being said, you want to keep in control. Loosely swinging your leg around will stretch muscles, but could potentially cause injury since you’re not focusing on a certain muscle. Make sure you’re in control, instead of momentum.
When doing dynamic stretches before a workout, it’s important to stretch the muscles that you’ll be using for that exercise. Do 10-20 reps, or 20-40 seconds of motion, per muscle.
Though dynamic stretches are generally recommended before a workout, you can do them even if you don’t plan on working out.
In either case, it’s best to get your heart rate up before doing these stretches. That increases blood flow and warmth to the muscles, allowing for a better stretch.
This is the type of stretching you probably imagine when you think of stretching. You pick a muscle, extend it, and hold that position. It’s the type of stretching most often used in physical education and sports.
An example would be the overhead tricep stretch. You lift your arm straight up, bend your elbow, and push back on your elbow. Push almost as far as you can go, then hold, relax, and breathe deeply. Do four sets of this for 15-30 seconds each time.
Static training is best recommended for the end of a workout. A goal of static stretching is to relax the body, helping you come down from a workout.
Though it can be done independent of a workout, if you’re looking to increase muscle flexibility, it’s recommended to get the blood flowing beforehand with some sort of movement.
Static stretching isn’t recommended before a workout or without some sort of warm-up. Doing so may actually increase risk of injury and decrease performance.
Stretching for recovery
Stretching following a workout can increase blood and oxygen flow to the targeted muscle. This can deliver nutrients and help with cell turnover and regeneration.
When it comes to muscle recovery – and general muscle health – Purality Health’s Active B Complex can be a great help.
With eight B vitamins and nine essential minerals – all in a highly absorbable form – your muscles can have the tools they need for optimal health.