Why do people stretch? Increasing flexibility, warming up, or preventing injury are the three most common reasons given. How you stretch really depends more about why you are stretching than anything else. If you are stretching to warm up, then a dynamic stretch (think leg high kicks) works well, as does a traditional warm up like light jogging. Trying to prevent injuries with stretching has not been proven effective in the research but conventional wisdom tells you someone who is stiff is more likely to injure themselves during athletic activities where unexpected forces can cause unexpected movements. Increasing flexibility works best by using a prolonged stretch after exercise and is best done by holding the stretch between 30 and 120 seconds. Doing this before exercise can actually increase your risk for injury, so beware of doing a static or prolonged stretch before exercise.
So what types of stretching should you do? The safest and most effective method of stretching, for most people, is using light dynamic movements to loosen up and get ready for activity. Movements such as walking, gentle twisting, light squats, and forward and backward bending are excellent movements you can use. As always, consult your physician before starting an exercise program.
Keep In Mind When Stretching
- everyone’s flexibility is different, know your body and your limits
- start small and work yourself up to more intense stretching – it takes time
- use controlled movements, don’t jerk your body because it can cause injury
- balance your stretching to all your muscles as much as you can – many muscles are activated when you exercise
- customize stretching to specific goals – that’s where we can help you get on the right plan to keep you healthy