These days there are so many places to get information, advice and guidance from fitness professionals that it can be a challenge to identify and keep track of the best tips on getting the most from workouts. Sometimes the most powerful inspiration comes from a simple review of the most fundamental basics. Most of us engaged in a regular exercise routine know we are supposed to stretch, but this last basic detail is often either skipped entirely or shortened in the interest of saving time. No to be overlooked, stretching can be one of the most enjoyable and restorative parts of a workout or cool down, and the true benefits are as important as strengthening muscles and conditioning our heart and lungs.
As muscles are worked during both strength training and cardio, they are flexing or getting shorter to accomplish the tasks they are asked to do during activity. After some time at work muscles will tend to stay shorter from the work, requiring stretching to regain length for comfortable functioning and decreased soreness. This is the “it feels good” part of stretching that is easily appreciated by anyone feeling “tight” at the end of a workout.
There are three basic categories of stretching: static, active and dynamic. Static stretching is holding a stretch position without movement for at least 20 to 30 seconds; this is the most common type of stretching used by exercisers and recommended for beginners or those returning to working. Active stretching is moving slowly through a range of motion (ROM) while stretching; this type of flexibility work is recommended for athletes and those whose activity has been regular without breaks for at least six or more weeks. Dynamic stretching is moving quickly through a range of motion to both stretch muscles and prepare joints for athletic activity. Picture a sprinter prior to a race swinging their legs forward and backward fast; this type of flexibility is generally reserved for sport-specific use with guidance from a trained professional.
Corrective and assisted stretching are additional forms of working muscles back to their full/optimal length for recovery and should be performed only with assistance from a professional until very familiar with the techniques. Corrective flexibility involves restoring length through stretching of muscles that have become too short, causing imbalance in function. This type of stretching also includes “foam-rolling” to relieve tenderness where the thin muscle covering called “fascia” have become stuck to muscle fibers further preventing full muscle length. Assisted stretching involves safely guiding the exerciser to and slightly beyond the “end-point” of a range of motion. This type of stretching can be performed with a partner and can be a great way to cool down and decrease soreness while increasing range of motion following a workout.
Following are quick tips for success with stretching/flexibility:
• Never stretch cold; always do at least 5 or 10 minutes of moderate cardio work first.
• Hold stretches for a minimum of 20 to 30 seconds (or longer) for maximum benefit.
• Plan to spend at least 5 to 10 minutes stretching toward the end of every workout.
• Seek assistance from a fitness pro for greater guidance and confi dence in your stretching routine.
• By Patrick Curtis is a CPT, Group Fitness Instructor and 20-plus years in Health and Fitness industry.