Stretching has gone in and out of favour in the sport and fitness world. Some believe that “long muscles are strong muscles” while others argue that loose, relaxed muscles are less responsive when explosive actions are required. Still, others point to a risk of injury from over-stretching cold muscles and would encourage dynamic stretching before exercise and static stretches after, if at all. Most of us can only agree on the fact that we do less of it than we think we should! As with everything, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, so find the routine that works for you and your needs.
Claire, our own personal trainer, massage therapist and sports nutritionist has prepared informative handouts for you to pick up at the clinic and among them, you will find an Ealing Fitness Clinic Guide to stretching. Let’s see what she has found out.
We are going to start with the definition of stretching. So…
What is Stretching?
Stretching is an action that elongates or lengthens a muscle. Stretching can improve flexibility and range of motion, increase blood flow, and release tension. Stretching can be classed into two types:
- Static: holding one position for a certain amount of time, without moving. This can be active, where you stay in the position using your own muscles, or passive, where you relax while a partner (or a prop such as a yoga strap) holds your body in the position.
- Dynamic: using repeated movements to increase the range of motion gradually. Examples are leg swings, arms circles or torso twists. This should not be confused with ballistic stretching which involves bouncing to push the muscles beyond its range
It is worth mentioning that whereas static stretching is more effective when muscles are warm and should be saved for a post-exercise cool-down, dynamic stretching is an essential part of a warm-up routine.
When Should I Stretch?
The most important thing is to stretch at all and not so much when to do it. I would recommend that you make it a habit and build it into your regular exercise routine. You can stretch whenever you feel like it and have time to do so, e.g., after you wake up, during breaks at work or at any other time you fancy. Also, a perfect way to start and/or finish off your workout would be a few minutes of gentle static stretching. If you are a runner, you might also find the NHS guide to stretching for runners of some help.
Why Is It Important?
Although according to the recent study, stretching may not prevent an injury or DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), it is still worth making some time every so often to do it. Most of our activities involve moving or reaching forwards or sitting down. This means most of the muscles at the front of our body (hip flexors, chest muscles) tend to remain in a shortened position more often, never fully lengthening. Conversely, the muscles at the back of our body remain stretched out and inactive. Therefore, when we do move in the opposite direction, our muscles are less efficient at engaging and as a result are more easily injured.
Many of us lead busy lives and struggle to prioritise stretching as it does not seem to offer an immediate benefit or feel rewarding (unlike working up a sweat at the gym or ticking another item off your to-do list). However, active stretching can act as a daily ‘reset’ to counteract the potential long-term effect of the repetitive actions we have performed during the day, allowing us to go the next day again.
Stretching little and often will bring the most significant benefit; your trainer or therapist can help you identify a few key areas to prioritise and suggest ways to build those stretches into a regular routine.
What is more, very often, stretching tight muscles is only half the story. It is just as essential to mobilise the joints connected to the muscles and increasing strength and stability will be required to prevent the muscles from tightening again.
If you feel like you might benefit from more expert advice about stretching and exercise in general, do not hesitate to get in touch with us at Ealing Fitness Clinic and book a free consultation with one of our personal trainers who will ensure you do the right stretches at the correct times.