I often come across conflicting advice and opinion about the effectiveness and value of stretching our muscles in preparation for exercise. Last week Robin wrote about why runners could benefit from doing Pilates, a timely post because we have the Women’s Flora Mini-Marathon soon to take place here in Dublin on the 2nd June. I would think most, if not all, runners would be knowledgeable of the benefits and be experienced in stretching their muscles.
The Flora Marathon website even has their own article about the benefits of Pilates for runners which suggests that a 6 week core strength programme, such as Pilates, helps runners shave 1min off their 5km times.
As an important reminder, in this article I offer some useful tips for stretching properly.
Warm up first
Many people think that stretching is the same thing as warming up. They are not the same and stretching a cold muscle places it at higher risk for sustaining an injury. You need to raise the temperature of your body first which is easily achieved by performing some dynamic movements that will get your heart and blood pumping faster than normal. You don’t need any special equipment for this as simply doing some on the spot running, leg squats and or push-ups will do the trick.
Stretch all your major muscles
We are all pushed for time and those of us who commit to squeezing in our regular exercise routines want to get as much benefit in as quick a time as possible. This need for speed must not cause us to skimp on our warm up and stretching pre and post exercise.
We should stretch out our lower back, our shoulders as well as our leg muscles; our bigger quads, calves and hamstrings.
Some studies support performing more dynamic stretches before your workout and static stretching, holding the stretch for 10-20 seconds, at the end of exercise. The post-workout ‘warm down’ is an activity most people tend to skip but as I will explain now is just as important as the warm up. Exercise is demanding on our muscles, our joints and tendons which hold our bodies together. These demands actually provide the numerous benefits from exercise by strengthening and conditioning our bodies as well as improving our cardiovascular (heart health) fitness. The negative side to exercise can be muscle soreness and fatigue as well as cause muscle length shortening and stiffness, relative to the intensity of the exercise performed.
By performing a series of static stretching movements after your workout you will help your body recover faster from muscle soreness and restore range of motion and flexibility.
Remember this important point: The out of date “no pain, no gain” saying has been proven incorrect. Pushing any movements to the point of pain and beyond is a sure way to raise your risk of injury. When performing your stretches the aim is to feel a gentle pull on the muscles, enough to elicit the stretch and enhance flexibility.
My top tip
Stretching is best if done every day, not only on workout days.
Our day to day activities, such as sitting in a chair for prolonged periods or holding a baby in one arm, put us in unnatural postural positions which create potential muscle imbalances. Incorporating a brief and simple stretching routine into your days will ensure you maintain optimal mobility.
Remember to warm up before starting your stretching routine.
Take care and happy stretching