Stretching is an often overlooked but extremely important part of your workouts. Most exercise physiologists agree that stretching before and after you work out will help to prevent injuries, and can improve athletic performance. This is especially true if you work out first thing in the morning, or after a long day of sitting at the desk on your job; your muscles will typically be tight if your body has been relatively dormant for a few hours. But how much stretching should you do? How much time should you spend stretching? The answer is fairly simple, but there are few variables to consider; read on to find out more.
Dynamic vs. Static Stretching
Stretching for workouts is generally divided into one of two main categories: Dynamic stretching and static stretching. Dynamic stretching is more of a "warm-up" for your muscles, because it involves active and fluid movements that are designed to get the blood flowing to the muscles you'll be using for your workout. Examples of dynamic stretches include arm circles, hip circles, walking lunges, butt kicks, high kicks and jump squats.
The whole point of dynamic stretching is to get your muscles used to being in motion, which will improve body awareness and help you increase your range of motion as well. Performing dynamic stretches will generally make your body feel more limber, so you won't go into your workout with stiff or cold muscles.
Static stretches, on the other hand, are stretches you perform while your body is relatively at rest. For example, you might pull your arms to the side or up in the air and then hold that position for a few seconds in order to stretch your shoulders and triceps.
Static stretching is mainly used to stimulate the connective tissue in your muscles, which allows more blood to flow, bringing life-giving oxygen to those areas. Static stretches are often recommended to alleviate muscle soreness, and to improve flexibility and range of motion.
Stretching Cold Muscles is a No-Go
You should do your best to avoid stretching cold muscles. Dynamic stretching will automatically warm up your muscles, but even if you choose static stretches, make sure you do some jumping jacks or light jogging on the treadmill for a couple of minutes before beginning your stretching routine.
Cold muscles are subject to tearing more easily, so be sure that you never start a static stretching routine with cold muscles. In fact, most fitness experts recommend saving your static stretching for after your workouts, and only performing dynamic stretches before you begin exercising.
Some Final Stretching Tips to Keep in Mind
- In addition to helping with post-workout flexibility and recovery, static stretches are also ideal for people who spend long periods of time sitting at a desk. You can use them to loosen up your hip flexors, back muscles, shoulders and hamstrings in between keyboard marathons.
- When you're performing dynamic stretches, focus on going through the motions you'll be performing during your workouts, but with less intensity. This will help to enhance muscle memory and body awareness, and it will "prep" the muscles that will primarily be in use when you're doing the actual workout.
- When performing static stretches, aim for a 30 second holding time for each stretching exercise. This works well for the majority of individuals ages 70 and under, but it should be noted that a longer holding period (e.g., 60 seconds) is recommended for persons over 70 years of age.
- Your stretches should be pain-free and relatively comfortable. Avoid excessive stretching, both in extension and duration, as this can lead to injuries.