To Stretch or Not to Stretch, That is the Question!
By Khristine Clark Hammond, MS CSCS
Do you stretch before you exercise? Do you stretch after you exercise? Do you warm-up before you stretch? There has been a lot of controversy in the past few years as to whether one should stretch before or after their exercise session to aid in injury prevention. So far the studies have been inconclusive and unable to confirm the theory that stretching before exercise is more beneficial for injury prevention. While the studies have been inconclusive, there are a few facts about stretching that you should keep in mind:
Never Stretch a Cold Muscle! If you are going to stretch before you exercise, you need to do an appropriate warm-up. This means that you should do about 5 minutes of rhythmic exercise to increase your core body temperature. When you increase your core body temperature, your muscles become warm and pliable. I once heard someone use the analogy that if you want to blow a bubble with your bubble gum, you have to chew the gum and get it soft (warm and pliable) before you can blow the bubble. You should do the same with your muscles before you try to stretch them. A proper warm-up before stretching is essential to injury prevention. If you do not warm-up, there is very good chance that you are going to “pull” or tear a muscle. A lot of people save stretching for the end of their workout session, because the body will be warm enough to stretch safely. In fact, intense stretching should be saved for after the exercise session.
No Bouncing! Have you ever watched those old exercise videos from the 80’s?Well, if you have, you have witnessed the phenomena of ballistic stretching. Ballistic stretching is when one bounces through a stretch to increase the range of motion. Please do not bounce. Stretching should be static, or motionless. Stretch to a point of uncomfortable tension, but not pain, and hold the stretch for 30-90 seconds.
Breathe! Do not hold your breath. Take a big inhale and as you move through your stretch, exhale. Once you reach the end point of your stretch, continue to take deep breaths. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth.
Do it everyday! Everyone could benefit from a little more time stretching. Being flexible not only aids in the prevention of injury, but makes everyday life easier as well. Appropriate shoulder flexibility allows you to reach up to the top shelf in the cabinet. Adequate hamstring flexibility allows you to reach down and tie your shoes without having to strain. It has been suggested that you stretch daily. The truth of the matter is that most people just do not make the time for stretching. So let’s at least make baby steps toward that goal. Start with stretching after exercise. Then add an additional session, like stretching on the floor while watching television.