originally published in the Capital Bicycle Club Newsletter, June 2012
During the past few years I’ve watched as negative and contradictory information about stretching has filtered its way through just about every blog, magazine, and report that I’ve read. In the last year of practice, I’ve had more discussions about stretching than in the whole decade prior! Unfortunately, many people are so confused about stretching now that they have all but given up on it! I hope that this article will give you some guidance through the confusion and get you feeling good about stretching again.
There are two things central to the discussion about stretching: when we stretch, and what type of stretching we do. About a decade ago scientific reports began to accumulate more and more data to indicate that static stretching prior to competition or a workout is not the best way to prevent injury. Since most of us have been told the opposite of this from the beginning of time, it’s clearly time to evolve our knowledge and pick up some new habits to make our efforts more beneficial. Here’s are some rules to keep in mind:
1. Consistency: Plan to dedicate daily effort to your stretching. Infrequent stretching may actually create injuries, especially if you only stretch just prior to big events, races, etc. Our soft tissues change best in response to regularly applied forces. Chronically tight/stiff muscles can be transformed over time to be more pliable and to contribute to movement patterns instead of restricting them.
2. Style: Choose your style of stretching for desired outcome. Static stretching involves isolating, stretching, and holding muscles for 20-60 seconds. It’s very good at improving mobility and improving muscle recovery following exercise. Self-Myofascial Release is the use of a foam roller, a tennis ball, or other object used to apply direct pressure to muscles to stretch them. This style is very helpful as a warm up for muscles before exercise and also for speeding recovery when done afterwards. Dynamic Mobility Stretching involves taking the body through a range of motion in progressive movement patterns. This style is most beneficial prior to working out and can be part of your warm up.
3. Warm up: Never stretch cold muscles! Warm up lightly prior to any type of stretching or exercise. This can be light walking, treadmill, a light spin on the bike, dynamic mobility drills, etc. Our soft tissue will be more compliant when they are warm and there is less likelihood of straining ourselves while stretching. A good indicator that you are warmed up is to be lightly sweating.
4. Timing: Prior to your workout or event, don’t focus on your stretching, think instead of your warmup. If you choose to stretch before exercise, choose the foam roller or dynamic mobility drills, but, again, only after you have warmed up. Otherwise, your stretching efforts are best saved for after your workout when any of the above styles will be safe and highly beneficial.
5. Sustainability: Find key areas that you want to stretch, and make sure you get to those areas first. If you only have 15 minutes per day to put into it, make them count! For me, the short list includes the hips, back, neck, chest, hamstrings, IT band, quadriceps, and calf muscles. Those areas frequently have problems with flexibility and overuse. As you get more accustomed to setting time aside to stretch, you can start adding in other areas.
Here are some of the benefits you can expect to enjoy from your efforts:
· Improvement in range of motion
· Faster recovery from exercise
· Decreased soreness from the intensity of exercise
· Improved athleticism, form, positioning, etc
· Decreased strain on joints
I hope this article has brought some new ideas for your to consider for your stretching habit. For specific instructions/demos of some of the stretching techniques that I’ve discussed, please check out my website for videos and past articles (http://rosserchiro.com/videos/) Also, feel free to contact me if you have specific concerns and need some assistance in fine-tuning your program.