How to Stretch Enough to Reduce Pain and Prevent Injury
Start the Day Off Right
Stretching in the morning before you start your day is ideal and highly recommended by physical therapists around the world. Physical therapist David Nolan of Massachusetts General Hospital encourages his patients to stretch. Doing so in the morning prevents low back pain and increases your blood circulation.
"A lot of people don't understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily."— David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Stretching as Part of Your Workout
Getting our workouts in every week is a victory we all would like to achieve. Trying to fit our workouts into our busy social life and overall daily living can be a real challenge. Furthermore, we even need to push ourselves a little further by doing each workout the right way with plenty of time to stretch before and after the workout.
The benefits of taking the time to stretch before and after your workout enhance physical fitness and sports performance—keep our muscles healthy. It increases mental and physical relaxation and develops body awareness. But, to gain all these rightful benefits, we must stretch our bodies—the right way—gradually and carefully.
Warm muscles help the overall conditioning of the body, in general, in that muscles stretch better when they are warm.
Warm Up Before Stretching
Now that you know you should stretch before your workout, you also need to warm your body up before you stretch. Warming up the muscles helps the overall conditioning of the body, in general, so your muscles stretch better when they are warm.
Before you start stretching, whether in the morning or before a workout, you need to get your body moving and get your blood pumping. Warm muscles stretch better. You can walk around the house or go outside and move the body to warm it up.
Before a regular workout, you set aside five to ten minutes of aerobic conditioning, such as energetic walking, light jogging, or jumping rope.
Truthfully, ten minutes of light aerobic activity is best. The idea is that the increased blood flow to the muscles raises your core body temperature. It improves muscle performance and flexibility while it reduces the likelihood of injury. You don’t want to get injured.
How Stretching Works
Focus on the idea that each stretch you perform should be for one muscle area. You place your attention on isolating each muscle as you stretch in a slow, relaxed, static stretching.
It allows your muscles to reduce tension gradually, focusing on the area you are stretching. Your body will experience resistance from fewer muscle groups, getting a better and more effective stretch in the intended area. With this method, you gain better control over the extension of your stretch, and you can readily change its intensity.
Melissa Joulwan, a certified fitness instructor, and triathlete states:
"If we try to lengthen the muscle too quickly or forcefully, it responds with a reflexive contraction -- it shortens the muscle in a protective response to the stress, so the muscle is tightened, rather than relaxed. To get the most out of your stretch, begin the exercise gently and hold it in place."
The length of time you hold your stretch varies from different sources. The most common practice is to maintain the stretch for 10 - 15 seconds before your workout.
After your workout, which is called the "cooling-off period," when you stretch, you can hold your stretches up to 30 seconds.
Bouncing up and down as you stretch hurts the body. It tightens the muscle, causes pain, and injury. If done correctly, stretching never causes pain.
Before or after a workout, the following steps will help you stretch:
- When starting the exercise, take a good deep breath in and slowly release the breath as you gradually relax into the stretch position.
- The proper way to breathe is to inhale slowly through the nose, expanding the abdomen, not the chest.
- Hold the breath for a moment then exhale slowly through the nose or mouth.
- You then relax further into the stretch and feel the tension in the muscle melt away.
- The breath should be natural, and the diaphragm and abdomen should remain soft.
- There should be no force of breath.
Five Areas to Stretch
According to Joulman, no matter what your sport or fitness activity is, there are five major body segments to be stretched for optimal fitness:
- Shoulders and Back
You start with your back, followed by your upper body and lower body.
How Yoga Relates to Stretching
Some think of yoga as stretching and relaxing, so they are not prone to physical injury, like low-back pain, and are not as stressed as they were before they started the practice. Some yoga instructors are okay with this concept and encourage their students to continue practicing the discipline.
The belief is that yoga originated in Indus Valley, South Asia, based on archeological confirmation associated with a figure in a familiar yoga pose, dated close to 3000 B.C.
Because yoga helps the body relax and be flexible, evidence proves that those who practice the discipline are healthier and stress-free. Thus, less prone to sickness and body aliments. Followers report healing themselves by continuing yoga through times of significant illness like cancer or through times of emotional distress like a substantial loss.
Most of the success stories relating to yoga acknowledge the instructors or teachers of the discipline, so keep in mind to find a teacher you feel positive about in all facets of learning the subject.
I see yoga as solely a way to stretch and keep the body flexible, so I am not prone to injury when I play sports or spend a lot of time in front of my computer working.
"In an ideal world, we'd all have time to start the day with a lovely warm-up and a half-hour of uninterrupted stretching. In the real world, lots of people skip out of the stretching at the end of aerobics classes, and we run, run, run, right from the running path to the shower and off to work, without taking (the) necessary cool-down time. Minimally, you should stretch twice a week to keep your muscles limber, and your mind relaxed," concluded Joulman.
- Effectiveness of three Stretching Techniques
Studies offer the guidelines for static stretching: frequency, duration, daily dose, number of repetitions and length.
- Chronic Static Stretching Improves Exercise Performance
A study investigated the influence of static stretching exercises on specific fitness performances as an exercise. The results proved that chronic static stretching improved exercise performance.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Kenna McHugh