When you stretch is just as important as how you stretch

Recently there has been a lot of information out there on stretch programs and these new facilities that just offer stretching. Surprisingly we have had quite a few clients who have come in injured after visiting these facilities. One might think stretching should be administered by a licensed massage therapist, physical therapist, physical therapy assistant or even a personal trainer. However without regulations regarding stretching services, many individuals doing the stretch remain untrained with a maximum of 70 hours of stretching from our research online. Many health and wellness professionals still teach the importance of stretching extensively before and after any sort of exercise, and if you’re a member of a gym, you’ll undoubtedly see this being done often. But what if I told you that many of us have been stretching all wrong?

While it’s hard to change old habits, this change is imperative if you want to get the most out of your workouts, and prevent injuries along the way. Many of us have always been told that before working out you should stretch and warm up right? But times change and research shows us just how wrong we are sometimes. While the warm up part is entirely true, let’s look at a scenario; you put a rubber band in the freezer and leave it for a day. The next morning you go and pull the rubber band out of the freezer and immediately stretch the rubber band. How far do you think the rubber band will stretch? Because it’s cold, not very far before it just snaps, right?

So now imagine that your muscles are that rubber band. If you perform static stretching (a technique in which a significant stretched position is slowly reached, then held for some time) while your muscles are “cold”, they’re not going to stretch much, and you run the risk of pulling or straining a muscle. In fact, static stretching before a workout reduces your strength and power output for up to an hour! While static stretching is out of the question before a workout, there is a way to warm your muscles up and stretch them without putting them in danger.

Dynamic flexibility exercises are exercises where movement starts slow, and gradually builds to the full range of motion and speed. Have you ever seen athletes warming up by mimicking the movements they are about to make in their match? Those movements would be considered dynamic flexibility exercises. They start small and gradually increase range of motion, and therefore the muscle stretch, while warming up the muscles at the same time. While static stretching before physical activity is not suggested, it can be helpful in aiding recovery after physical activity.

It is important to note that anytime you’re stretching, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t force your body into it. Also, never allow another human being to force your body into the stretch in the event it feel like you can't do it alone. This could cause muscle strains or potential other long lasting injuries. While that may be common sense for many, we live in a time where many still abide by the mantra “no pain, no gain” and that just isn’t always the case, especially when it comes to stretching. If you want to stretch your muscles before a workout, focus on stretches that include movement as opposed to stretches that are static, and save the static stretches for post workout to help your muscles recover.

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