Remember back in the day when the first part of gym class consisted of boring stretches? For ten minutes, we would stretch our hands out towards the sky, and then we would stretch them to the ground as we bent over at the waist. Did the teacher think we were all senior citizens and had trouble getting around? The last thing we wanted to do was take up part of gym class by mindless stretching. All of us would much more prefer to be throwing balls at each other during this time.
At that moment, we thought that it was all just a big waste of time. We believed there was no chance we would ever become old enough where stretching would be in our vocabulary. However, as we get older and wiser, we can start to realize the benefits that stretching can do for a person’s health and mobility.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Old School Thinking and Common Misconceptions</p></h4>
Most people believe that stretching should be done at one of two times, just like our former PE teacher thought. People either go with stretching before or after a workout, and sometimes even both! There are reasons that the masses have done it this way for decades.
<div class="my-5"><h5>Warming up</h5>
Warming up with stretching gently prepares your body for exercise as it slowly raises your heart rate, and in addition, will improve flexibility in your joints and muscles. Think of your body like your car; you don’t want to take it out of the garage and go zero to sixty in the first few seconds. Treat your body the same way. Gradually increase your workload as your training continues further. If you don’t, there is a good chance of injury from a sudden strenuous movement.
<div class="my-5"><h5>Before and After</h5>
Stretching is thought to be beneficial before a workout or after a workout, but there are risks involved that are often overlooked. Perhaps, these are not the best times to do your stretching. For instance, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22316148">**recent studies**</a> have suggested that stretching before workouts can actually impede your performance for the athletic event or exercise routine. By stretching before physical activity, runners are said to run slower, weight lifters struggle with less weight, and jumpers will jump less high than they normally might. And even though people have been preaching for decades about how stretching before a workout can decrease the chance of injury, this has proven not to always be the case.
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<img class="img-fluid w-md-75" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/bigstock-woman-exercising-at-park.jpg" alt="Stretching before workout">
<div class="my-5"><h5>So maybe right now you are thinking that stretching after a workout could be better for you then....</h5>
Not so fast, my friend. Athletes have always been counseled to stretch after workouts to help with post-workout recovery. However, this is exercise folklore that has never been proven. <a href="https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/stretching-after-exercise-does-it-aid-in-recovery/">**Stretching after a workout does not decrease muscle stiffness and soreness like previously thought**</a>. What does prevent soreness is enhanced blood flow, but stretching really does not increase blood flow much at all. Furthermore, many consider stretching to actually limit the blood flow, so it is doing the opposite of what you wanted. Instead, if you want to avoid stiffness and sore body parts, head on into a sauna or a jacuzzi where the blood starts moving because of the heat. If you are working out at home, run a very hot bath or a steaming shower and get the same benefits. Or you could take the opposite route and go with extreme cold like an ice bath or a freezing cold shower.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">When Is a Good Time to Stretch?</p></h4>
So If you have not reached the age yet, you definitely will. You’ll be hurting just by waking up and getting out of bed in the morning. We all can recall our fathers walking around in the morning like they just broke both legs by coming down to breakfast. You might have even cracked a joke or two at his expense. However, if you have reached this time in your life, you probably aren’t cracking jokes any longer.
<div class="my-5"><h5>Stretch In The Morning</h5>
To help reduce the chance of walking around like a zombie in the morning with creaky body parts, think outside the box a bit. Remember those mysterious ailments that show up between midnight and 6 am? Stretching first thing in the morning could alleviate some of these problems and stretching allows the muscles to remain flexible and healthy. With this flexibility, we can then have a greater range of motion in our joints. This is something all of us definitely need upon rising to greet the day.
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<img class="img-fluid w-md-75" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/bigstock-Woman-Waking-Up.jpg" alt="Stretching in the morning">
<div class="my-5"><h5>Stretch Before Bed</h5>
In contrast, another superb time to <a href="https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a19516052/whats-the-best-time-of-day-to-stretch/">**stretch is in the evening**</a> right before you decide to finally climb into bed. It makes perfect sense since periods of inactiveness can increase stiffness and soreness, so stretching before bed will limit the amount of inactiveness your body is experiencing at night. Think about it like this. The people that always seem to be on the go and jumping from place to place never seem to be the ones having difficulty getting around. However, after a few hours sitting behind a desk or laying on the couch at home, you will stand and feel like a linebacker had just flattened you down in the last couple hours but you don’t remember exactly when it happened. It may sound strange to warm up your body through stretching right before going to sleep, but try it out and see if it decreases the morning creakiness throughout your body.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">How to Stretch the Correct Way</p></h4>
There are people you have probably seen training that perform their stretching routine in a violent fashion. They are jerking their body this way and that way in an effort to get loose. However, they could be doing more damage than good. Any sudden movements or twisting could result in injury. And who wants to go to their doctor and explain that the injury occurred while they were stretching before a workout?
There are a few key things to keep in mind when deciding what stretching routine you plan to follow. For instance, the National Academy of Sports Medicine states that each stretch should be held for 30 seconds. This will increase flexibility and decrease the chance of pulling something by some herky jerky movements. Holding a stretch for 30 seconds is an example of static stretching, which means a stretch is held in a challenging way, but not an injury prone one, for a period of time between 10 and 30 seconds. It is the most common form of stretching found in professional athletics and overall general fitness. Static stretching is considered safe and effectively improves flexibility and mobility.
<div class="my-5"><h5>Dynamic Stretching</h5>
While static stretching is done often right before bed, dynamic stretching is usually tackled first thing in the morning. Dynamic stretching activates muscles and mostly uses your own bodyweight to do so. For example, bodyweight squats is an excellent thing to do in the morning. Slow motion push-ups is another great model of dynamic stretching. It is activating your muscle groups, but also increasing your mobility in the process. Plus, as we age, our bone density decreases and this is why we are so much more susceptible to breaks and fractures when we become older. However, with strength training exercises, like dynamic stretching, we can actually increase our bone density. It is a classic case of if you don’t use it, you lose it.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Stretching Mistakes to Avoid</p></h4>
Just like there is a correct way to stretch, there are also incorrect ways that can actually leave you injured and on the shelf for a period of time. Like mentioned earlier, you want to avoid sudden movements while stretching. If you do a lot of bouncing or quick moves, you can cause your muscle or tendon to tear away. Luga Podesta, MD, sports medicine physician and rehabilitation specialist at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, sees this type of injury more than he would like. Dr. Podesta says to be sure to hold stretches at least ten seconds for safety purposes.
Another time injury may occur is when you are in the wrong position or you are just extending yourself too much. Don’t overdo it or put yourself in a pretzel position because you think it will pay off in spades. Stay within your range of motion. Trying to show someone that you can bend over at the waist and have the palms of your hands flat on the floor could be a recipe for disaster.
Lastly, sometimes that muscle you believe is just sore could actually be injured. Stretching it could make it much worse instead of making it better. If you have doubts whether it is only soreness or it might be some sort of strain or tear, it is best to speak with a physician.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">A Necessary Evil</p></h4>
The term “a necessary evil” applies to something that is undesirable, but needed. As we grow older, stretching definitely falls into this category. But completing your stretches smartly can go a long ways in increasing your general health and fitness and reduce the chance of limited mobility and injury.
<h6><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Sources Cited</h6>
<font size="1">Marshall, PW, Cashman, A, and Cheema, BS. A randomized controlled trial for the effect of passive stretching on measures of hamstring extensibility, passive stiffness, strength, and stretch tolerance. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 14: In Press, 2011.
National Strength and Conditioning Association. Sands, W. PhD, CSCS. Stretching After Exercise: Does it Aid in Recovery? 2015.
Scand J Med Sci Sports. Simic L., Sarabon N, Markovic G. Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review. 2013 Mar;23(2):131-48. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22316148>
Wessel, J, and Wan, A. Effect of stretching on the intensity of delayed-onset muscle soreness. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 4: 83-87, 1994.</font>