To Stretch or Not to Stretch…
Updated: Jun 24
by Stacey Raza, certified fitness instructor and nutritionist
Back in physical education class, we all stretched before exercise or playing games. We would drop to the floor, reach for our toes to stretch our hamstrings for 30 seconds or so before performing several more of these “static stretches” on our other major muscle groups. We later found out this may not be the best way to warm up. Though there is still some debate on the matter, the current consensus is to perform “dynamic stretches” before exercise. So, what exactly does this mean?
Dynamic stretches are active stretches where the joints move through a full range of motion. A really effective way to increase blood flow and joint mobility, dynamic stretching gently eases your body from resting to working. The exercises can mimic the activity you are about to do or they may be a series of movements to get the body moving before any activity. This is especially important in sports that involve jumping, sprinting or forceful movements such as tennis, soccer and basketball. Dynamic stretching can also help reduce the chances of acute injuries, such as hamstring pulls.
What are some examples and how long should I stretch?
Start with three to five minutes of light aerobic activity like a gentle jog. Then, move into six to twelve minutes of dynamic stretching. Begin moving slowly, performing the movements in a controlled manner, gradually increasing your range of motion. Walking lunges, leg swings, raising knees to chest, arm circles and high kicks are all great examples. For a short how-to video click here.
Does this mean I should nix the static stretching altogether?
Nope! The best time to do static stretching is after your workout. So instead of wrapping up your HIIT session and heading straight to the shower, use static stretching as part of your cool down to help improve flexibility and decrease your chance of injury. Static stretching helps elongate muscles, alleviates muscle tightness and reduces the chance of delayed onset muscle soreness.
Bottom Line: Don’t skip your warm up and cool down and incorporate the right kind of stretching for each!