There always seems to be controversy over whether to stretch before or after exercise. Recent research by Robert Herbert, PhD, and Marcos de Noronha, PhD, of the University of Sydney, indicates it doesn’t matter whether you stretch before of after exercise because either way it does nothing to prevent injury or muscle soreness. However, most people enjoy stretching and find it gives them a sense of well-being, so, most trainers support light stretching after exercise.
Guidelines suggest each stretch should last no longer than thirty seconds because maximum range of motion can be achieved in that time. Additionally, your stretch routine should last no longer than ten minutes, and you should stretch out the muscles worked or trained. To ensure you stretch correctly, there are several things you need to know. Here they are
- Avoid discomfort. Stretching should not be painful, and you should not over-stretch. A proper stretch causes slight tension but does not create pain.
- Go slow, don’t jerk, and be smooth. Stretches should be done slowly, without jerking or bouncing. They should also be smooth, fluid moves. Remember you are relaxing, so do stretches slow. Also, jerking or bouncing pushes the muscle beyond where it needs to stretch and that can cause injury.
- Inhale and exhale. Breathe to relax. In fact, deep breathing is the key to relaxation, so don’t hold your breath. Instead breathe with each stretch.
- Perform balanced stretching. Stretch the muscles equally on both sides of your body. Don’t just stretch one side or stretch one side more than the other.
Remember to incorporate those tips, as you do the following eight stretches listed here.
- Bicep and Shoulders: In a standing position with your feet shoulder wide, clasp your hands together behind your back. Roll your chest forward and raise your arms to the ceiling, but remain standing straight. Hold the stretch for up to 15 seconds.
- Calves: Find a wall and position yourself about two feet from it. Move your left foot back approximately 20 inches. Keep your left knee straight and keep both heels flat on the floor. Place your hands on the wall, bend your right knee, and shift your pelvis forward until you feel a stretch in your left calf and Achilles heel. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds. Repeat the stretch for the opposite leg.
- Hamstrings: Stand with your feet shoulder wide. Slowly bend your upper body at the waist and stretch your arms to your feet. (If you can, touch your toes.) Hold the position for 15 seconds. Roll up smoothly into the starting position. DO NOT bounce when you do this; make it a smooth, fluid movement.
- Hips: Lie on your back. Bend your right leg and bring it towards your chest. Turn your head to the right. Grasp your right knee with your left hand and pull it slightly to the left side until you feel a stretch. Your left leg should stay flat on the floor during the stretch. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg. Do the stretch twice for each leg.
- Low back: Lay flat on the floor with both knees bent. Use your hands to pull them toward your chest. Lift your head and shoulders off the floor until your head is approximately six inches from your knees. Cross your ankles. Gently rock yourself back and forth in this position for 30 seconds. Repeat twice.
- Quads: Stand straight with your feet shoulder wide. Keep your knees taut and do not bend them. Bring one leg behind your back and grasp it with the arm on the same side. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat for the opposite leg. Do the stretch twice.
- Torso: In a sitting position, cross your legs. Clasp your hands together and raise them above your head towards the sky. Inhale and reach as high as you can. Hold for 30 seconds. Exhale, release your clasp, and lower your arms stretching them out on either side of you. Repeat the stretch twice.
- Triceps: Stand with your feet shoulder wide. Extend one arm above your head and then bend it behind your head reaching down your back as far as you can. With the opposite arm, grab the extended arm’s elbow and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat the stretch with the opposite arm. Do the stretch twice.
Although stretching may not prevent injury or muscle soreness, stretching does have other advantages. It improves circulation, enhances your range of motion, and encourages good posture. It also decreases stiffness and relieves some muscle tension. So, if you like to stretch, incorporate it into your routine and do it right.