To Stretch or Not to Stretch – That is the Question!

To Stretch or Not to Stretch – That is the Question! 

By Tara Dickinson

Do you do it cold? Or do you like it hot? Some people like it before and some after. That is today’s question as we talk about stretching and timing with your workouts.

The first question should be: why do we stretch at all? What benefit is it to our bodies?  Believe it or not stretching is just as important as your regular exercise regime. Unfortunately many of us tend to overlook this fact. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Increases range of motion and muscle flexibility
  • Prepares muscles for a workout thereby decreasing chance of injury
  • Helps reduce muscle soreness
  • A time to cool down, relax and recharge, especially when done after a workout

The second important question is timing. Is it best to stretch before we begin our workout or after? The soundest answer is actually both.

The first rule of thumb is to never stretch when you, your muscles, are cold. This can actually cause damage. Trying to stretch a cold muscle is like trying to bend an uncooked spaghetti noodle- it will snap. The noodle needs to be heated before it pliable, than it can twist and bend any which way. Same goes for our muscles.

The second rule of thumb is two minutes. Focus on the area of the body you’re going to be working on and warm those up. Jumping jacks, jumping rope, rapid arm circles, jogging in place—any gentle cardio to get the blood pumping and the muscles warmed up is adequate.

Remember, we’re still in pre-workout prep. This is not when we need to spend a lot of time stretching, just enough to protect the muscles and get on our way. After you are warmed up take another two to three minutes to stretch out any muscles groups you’ll be using that day.

You’ve finished a good bike ride, a long run, a free-weight session at the gym, now is the moment to spend some quality time stretching. As your muscles get stronger and tighter they can pull your pelvis down (causing a tight lower back) and cause your hamstrings to retract (causing stiff legs). Stretching these guys out is the only way to keep your mobility fluid. Otherwise things can actually get worse.

So take the time, remember stretching is just as important as the workout. Hold each posture for 10-16 seconds for optimal muscle lengthening. Give yourself at least 15-20 minutes after each workout dedicated just to stretching the muscles used that day. I would also highly recommend going to at least one yoga or Pilates class a week. Spending this focused hour on your muscle mobility will make all the difference in your fitness health and bodies overall state of well-being.

Tara Dickinson is a black belt in Taekwondo and a certified Hatha yoga teacher.

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