What you should know about stretching (part 1)
“I don’t have time.” “I hate doing it.” “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Personal trainers hear this all the time from friends, family, around the gym and even from clients. We get it, we all lead busy lives in New York City. However, on the heels of the iconic New York Marathon, understanding the principles of stretching are evermore important.
Ironically, in order to maintain fitness over the long term, stretching is as important a part of a cardiovascular or resistance training session as anything else in the workout – maybe even more so.
Putting exercise aside for a minute, think about some of the things we do all the time. We’re: reaching to get a coat off the hanger, pulling it out of the closet and putting it on; bending to pick up a stack of newspapers, lifting it into the recycling bin and taking it out for pickup; hoisting our son or daughter into one arm, while carrying groceries in the other and then putting them both down to find the house keys. In and of themselves, these are pretty simple actions, but in fact, each of these motions requires specific joint movements. And when the joints can’t do those specific movements, the body is forced to use different ones – sometimes the wrong ones. Those “compensations,” as they’re known, can create the perfect storm for sustaining an injury. As analyzed in a systematic review by Dallinga, Bejaminse, and Leinmink (2012), the loss in flexibility can increase the risk for injury in certain joints.
When you think of things in those terms, the dread of stretching may begin to dissipate.
Stretching is an easy way to help prevent injury and to support our ability to do things we want and need to do. There are many stretches, and many different types of stretches. Stretching can even be fun.
But first, here are a few important things to know and remember:
1. Stretching helps the body to develop and maintain full range of motion in all joints. You may not need every joint and muscle for everything you do every day, but in general, our bodies follow a “use it or lose it” principle. That means if you don’t maintain joint range of motion through stretching, you risk injury when that joint is called upon to perform a particular action (it’s that compensation thing again).
The good news is, if you fell off a stretching routine and lost some range of motion, you will be able to regain it when you get back on program, and in time.
2. Stretching can and should be incorporated into daily activities and routines and you need commit to it for the long haul. Think of stretching as your new life partner. You would find time to send a quick email or place a call to your partner, wouldn’t you? Well, you can also find time to stretch appropriately for exercise and other activities, ideally a few times a day.
For the most part, mature adults should stretch, young children should stretch (as long as they understand and can follow the movements), and so should everyone in between.
3. It’s very important to stretch the right muscles for the activity or sport in which you are engaging. If you are going to ride the stationary bike at the gym, or just finished riding it, make sure to stretch for that exercise. For upper body day at the gym? Same thing, but different stretches.
Again, there are many different stretches and many types of stretches, all of which can help achieve and maintain an optimal level of fitness.
Static and dynamic stretches are among the most important ones. They are integral to cardiovascular and resistance training workouts as well as other activities, and we’ll look forward to explaining them in greater detail in our next post on stretching. Stay tuned for part 2!
Dallinga, J. M., Benjaminse, A., & Leinmink, K. M. (2012). Which screening tools can predict injury to the lower extremities in team sports?: A systematic review. Sports Medicine, 42(9), 791-815.