Everything You Need to Know About Stretching

Stretching is a key component in most exercise routines, but knowing how and when to stretch can be confusing. Furthermore, taking extra time to stretch after a workout (that probably already seems too long) may not be a favorite among exercisers.  I know that I am usually rushed by the time I finish my workout, and stretching goes by the wayside.

Knowing the importance of stretching, I decided to do some research and learn how to better incorporate it into my exercise routine on a consistent basis. But I especially wanted to learn how to do it right, so I can make the most out of my stretches and my time.

The article 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Stretching by Greg Brooks, offers a lot of useful details about stretching. Stretching is important, but aspects of it aren’t always beneficial, and this article also highlights why stretching is not good for certain muscles and in certain situations. 

The last thing you want is to do something counterproductive to your exercise routine, especially when you are working hard to get fit, so this article gives you the tools to make sure you are maximizing the benefits of stretching.  Here are a few of my faves from the article.

You’re Not Just Stretching Muscle

Every time you stretch you are not just hitting your muscles but other soft tissue too. Fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, blood vessels, and nerves also gets stretched, as well as the tendons that connect your muscles to your bones.

Everything is Connected

The body is comprised of connecting pathways of soft tissue. These pathways run through the entire body, and with the body interconnected in this way by stretching one section of the soft tissue pathway, you are influencing other areas throughout that pathway. A simple example is how repeated wearing of high heel shoes may shortens the tissue that runs from the sole of the foot up the back of the body and can result in back pain.

We Should All Stretch Differently

We are all unique and have different length tensions throughout the body. There is no ”One size fits all” stretching program. Just like tuning a musical instrument we must only address the strings that need adjustment. It is important to understand your own body and then make adjustments accordingly.

Breathing Influences the Stretch

Deep breathing stimulates the Parasympathetic nervous system and this causes the body to relax. Mediation makes good use of this technique, as does Yoga. When the body is relaxed it lets go of muscle tension. When you stretch you can use the breath to increase your stretching range of movement. As you slowly move into the stretch take a deep and long breath out and feel your tension release, do not fight it. As you breath in, come out of the stretch slightly and then return into the stretch as you breath out again.

Stretching Can Cause Injury

Knots, Adhesion’s and Scar Tissue leave our soft tissue weak and vulnerable. Putting poor quality soft tissue under strain through stretching can cause further damage. Think about stretching an elastic band with a knot tied in the center, the knot gets tighter and produces weak breaking points. Massage and foam rolling may be a better alternative to improving quality.

Stretching is NOT a Warm Up

Static stretching should not be thought of as a warm up. Moving the joints and muscles by taking the body through the movement of the workout is a better way to prepare the body for exercise. For example, if you are getting ready to work biceps, do a few bicep curls using no weights. Just take your arms through the movement.

Better to Stretch Away From Exercise

Stretching can be done at any time but stretching when the body is relaxed is the most effective. Stretching after exercise or even in the evening is a good way to go. If you try and stretch during your workout the muscles finds it hard to relax, and the stretch doesn’t really do it’s job as effectivley.

Stretching is 3 Dimensional

We have over 600 muscles in the body and they all run in different directions. When you stretch you need to consider the angle of the muscles on stretch. For example you have 3 Hamstrings and by just internally or externally rotating the legs you can hit different muscles. If you find one stretch easy then try it from a different angle.

Exercise Expectations

What You Can Expect From Exercise

The Shrot Term Benefit (right after you finish): Exercise works on the part of the brain that determines what kind of mood you’re in. No matter how rotten you feel when you start out, a good run, swim, bike ride, or walk can change that mood. If you’re already feeling good, you’ll even feel better.

The Long Term Benefit: After a few weeks your body will be firmer and more flexible. Your pulse will be slower when you’re not working out; a sign that your heart is working at a healthier pace. You’ll look better and the difference will start to show in your shape and how you carry yourself.
 
 What You Can’t Expect From Exercise

You can’t expect to look like a super model that  you see in a magazine, television or advertisement. If you went to take voice lessons, you might expect your voice to improve, but you wouldn’t expect to sound like Madonna. The same goes for your shape. You’ll end up with your body –  in shape,  not with the shape of someone else.
 
A Work Out That Works
The word exercise covers a lot of different activities, from walking to weight lifting. The best exercise is any kind that keeps your whole body moving for at least 20 minutes, makes you breathe harder than usual, makes you sweat, and gets your heart beating faster. 

A good exercise routine involves these four things:
Warming up
Conditioning
Cooling down
Stretching

Warming up
Before you begin working out at full force, start slowly by using the same motions you’ll be using when you’re exercising . By starting out easy, your giving your blood time to make its way to your muscles. The blood is fuel for those muscles, and if you don’t give it a chance to get to them, they might poop out on you. 
 
Conditioning
This is when you work your body so much that you feel a difference in your pulse rate and in the way you are breathing. During conditioning, you’re working out the most important muscle of all — your heart. Exercise that increases your pulse rate (makes your heart beat faster) is the kind that has all of the benefits like controlling your appetite and making you feel terrific. People who don’t exercise end up storing much more of what they eat as fat, than people who work out often. The reason for this is that muscles which are in good shape from conditioning use of a lot of energy, and fat uses hardly any energy at all. (Read: you burn more calories)
 
Cooling down
Don’t bring yourself to a sudden stop when you’ve finished your work out. Your body isn’t prepared to quit as quickly as you might be, and a sudden stop could cause cramps, dizziness, or even fainting. Slow to a stop by lightly doing whatever activity you’ve been doing, just at a slower pace.

 
Stretching
This softens and relaxes your muscles, allowing them to handle the extra stress you have put on them during your work out. Well-stretched joints are less likely to strain, or sprain. Even if you only have time for a quick stretch, doing it after your workout is key.
Make the most of your routine by including all four steps, and embrace your inner supermodel.

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