Stretching – A Few Short Minutes Could Improve Performance

Wednesday, August 01, 2012 4:36 PM

It’s hard enough sometimes to get into a regular workout schedule, but then to add an extra 5-10 minutes to each session for stretching can make it even more difficult. Fortunately, the benefits of stretching both before and after a workout can make this extra time worth it.Stretching

April Williams, MS, RCEP Exercise Physiologist at NorthShore, discusses the benefits of stretching pre and post workout:

  • Reduces injury. There is nothing worse than pulling or tearing a muscle from working out. Warming up your muscles before a workout can help reduce muscle strain and pain during exercise. The same holds true for when your workout is complete. To help energize your muscles before an activity you could do a dynamic warm-up. This type of warm-up involves moving, much more than just holding a stretch, and can help prepare your body for your activity. This could consist of doing 10-15 repetitions of lightly skipping, walking lunges, side stepping exercises, etc.
  • Improves muscle soreness and stiffness. Just as you may need a cup of coffee to get you going in the morning, your body also needs some time to prepare for strenuous activity. Stretching will give you a greater range of motion during your workout, in your activities of daily living and can also help relieve stress.
  • Improves circulation. Stretching can improve blood flow, making for an easier warm-up, workout and cool down.
  • Enhances flexibility. Have you ever noticed that after time goes by without working out you may not be able to reach your toes when stretching your legs? Continued stretching exercises will make you more limber and flexible. This is especially important since not all of our muscles get used on a day-to-day basis. Stretching is something that should be done on a daily basis because as we get older, our muscles tend to get shorter/tighten, and if they are not stretched they may not work properly. Stretching is a wonderful way to help protect against this loss as we age.

Be sure that you are gently stretching all major muscle groups, especially after working out.  It will be easier for you to get a better stretch once your muscles are already warm from your activity. The following stretches are good starting points for any workout, and can be customized depending on your needs and activity:

  • Arm stretches. This can include doing arm circles (in both directions), stretching your arm across your chest or behind your head. Another option is to give yourself a big bear hug, switching out which arm is on top. Plan to hold each stretch for 10-20 seconds. Make sure you never bounce or have short, quick movements.
  • Leg stretches. This should include hamstring and quadriceps. You can do many of these stretches either standing up or sitting down. You can stretch your calves by leaning against a stationary object. Bend your front leg slightly and leave your back leg straight with the heel on the ground. Don’t forget to change legs to get the other side, too!

Do you stretch before and after you exercise? How long to you usually stretch for?

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