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How To Stretch Properly

How To Stretch Properly

How to stretch correctly before and after exercise…

pre exercise stretching counterproductive 300x400 How To Stretch Properly

How To Stretch Correctly Before And After Exercise

Last month we featured an article that covered Jacob M. Wilson, PhD, and his team who had been studying how pre-exercise stretching affected the performance of runners.

Surprisingly enough, the study and numerous others, suggested that skipping pre-exercise stretches actually helped to improved performance.

The findings are pretty much the exact opposite of what most of us have been taught all our lives, and naturally, experts now want to uncovered the real secrets behind proper stretching techniques.

Bill Holcomb, PhD, professor of athletic training at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, conducted a similar study into how stretching affects exercise, however where previous studies only analyzed participants who stretched from between 8 – 20 minutes prior to exercise, Holcomb’s team decided that 90 seconds was a more realistic duration to focus on.

Even with much shorter stretching duration, the results turned up the same. Holcomb explained:

You should never stretch a cold muscle in any way. And doing static stretches meaning the kind where you hold the stretch before a workout or competition may decrease your strength, power, and performance. [WebMD]

Warm-up first

Stretching is needed to improve range of motion and avoid injury; however orthopedic surgeon William Levine, MD, director of sports medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, warns never to stretch a cold muscle.

Instead try warming up with a brisk walk, gentle jog, or light aerobic exercises.

Holcomb explained that not only does this help to increase blow flow, it also makes the collagen fibers more elastic.

Then perform dynamic stretches

After warming-up, then perform dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretches are controlled movements, not the kind where you bounce, bob or swing aggressively until your muscles strain.

Check out the California Fitness Academy video below for some great dynamic warm up stretches.

The main thing to remember with dynamic stretching is that technique is key. Levine warned that poor technique could put you at higher risk for injury.

Try Yoga

Take Yoga classes. It’s clearly a fantastic way to keep your muscle supple, and you’ll learn some great stretching and relaxing techniques.

Mary Pullig Schatz, MD, a retired surgical pathologist, yoga expert, and author of Back Care Basics.

Improving your flexibility allows you to put your body in good ergonomic alignment. Yoga can help you combine flexibility and strength, breathe properly, reduce head, neck, and back pain, and put the body back in balance. [WebMD]

Do static stretches to warm-down

Once you’ve finished exercising, then it’s time to do static stretches to warm-down. According to Halcomb, starting off with static stretches and finishing with nothing is the most common mistake most people make.

He explained that the warm down is when you will ‘lengthen muscles’ to improve flexibility and range.

Stretch for specific sports

Halcomb also advised learning specific warm-ups and stretches for your chosen sport.

For example, football linemen are vulnerable to shoulder tears. Runners may suffer knee problems and shin splints. For golfers, the lower back is often the hot spot. [WebMD]

Don’t stretch till it hurts

Never stretch till it hurts. I’m guilty of this myself thinking ‘no pain, no gain.’ You should never feel any pain from doing dynamic stretches, if you do, you’re pushing too hard.

When you’re performing static stretches after exercising you should be feeling a slight amount of discomfort, but certainly not pain.

Stretch to reduce stress

Experts also agree that stretching can help to reduce stress. Dean Ornish, MD, founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif., and author of The Spectrum, explains:

During times of emotional stress, the muscles in your body contract. This is an adaptive response to acute stress, as it fortifies your body armor so that in times of danger, if you get hit, for example, your muscles help to protect you

However, in times of chronic stress, these same mechanisms that have evolved to protect us can create problems chronically tensed muscles, especially those in the back and neck, predispose to chronic pain or injury. Thus, stress management techniques can help prevent this. Also, gentle stretching of chronically tensed muscles provide relaxation to the mind as well as the body. [WebMD].

It’s true that some research still disputes Holcomb’s findings; however its studies like these that are helping experts to reassess the way we stretch and warm up.

Holcomb’s team’s recent study appeared in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

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