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Why include a stretching routine to your workout?
A proper stretching routine is a necessary component to any workout or athletic performance. In this article, we will cover 5 easy to implement tips to make sure your stretching is more effective.
Restricted or tight muscles and connective tissue can result from long periods of immobilization, sedentary lifestyles, postural changes, or with pain and inflammation associated with injury. You may also be surprised to learn that your workplace ergonomics might have a huge impact on the flexibility of your muscles.
For example, if you work while sitting at a desk for prolonged periods, you will most likely have to deal with tight hip flexors and hamstrings.
Stretching can be a helpful way to restore normal unrestricted range of motion to allow for optimal movement and posture. Daily stretching may be necessary under some circumstances so that you can properly recover from injuries such as neck and back pain.
Improvements gained by stretching should be maintained by adding strengthening and endurance training to the muscles opposing the ones being stretched.
In addition, stretching can help minimize some typical post workout soreness. This can help minimize the effects of pain as a deterrent to getting yourself fit and healthy.
Here are some tips to improve the effectiveness of your stretching routine.
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1. Warm Up
Stretching is not a warm up. In fact, I don’t recommend stretching cold muscles at all. It’s best to perform a dynamic warm up prior to stretching to achieve improved mobility. It can also be helpful to apply heat to the target tissue to improve its ability to gain flexibility prior to
Warm Up Example: 5 minutes on the stationary bike.
The process of stretching involves elongating soft tissue by increasing the distance between both bony attachments. If one on the attachment sites is stabilized or is kept from moving, it will be easier to control only one moving part and specifically stretch the target muscle.
Left Upper Trapezius Stretch Example: While bending the neck to the side, slowly bring your right ear towards your right shoulder. Improve stabilization by sitting on your left hand to prevent your left shoulder from elevating during the stretch.
Keep your body in a neutral postural alignment while performing your stretch to prevent your body from compensating for the tight muscles. Occasionally, the very fact of being inflexible in the first place might contribute to falling out of proper alignment in many instances of your stretching routine.
An example of this would be if you are unable to reach your hand far enough to grasp your ankle during a standing quadriceps stretch. You might find it helpful to use a stretching strap to help you reach better without getting into any awkward postures.
Quadriceps Stretch Example: Since this muscle crosses two joints, the hip and the knee, it is important to control the movement of both joints. The knee must bend (flex), while the hip extends. Maintain proper alignment by preventing the leg from abducting (moving away from the center), the pelvis from rotating forward, and the lower back from over arching.
4. Avoid Pain
Although stretching can be uncomfortable for some, it is not advisable to stretch to the point of pain. Your body deals with pain by guarding or tensing up. This is the opposite of what we want to have happen when lengthening tight muscles. A better strategy would be to hold a less intense, more comfortable stretch, for a longer duration.
Stretch Duration and Intensity Example: Holding a stretch beyond the onset of resistance (stiffness) but prior to the onset of pain for 60 seconds would be better than holding a high intensity pain provoking stretch for 15 seconds.
5. Active Stretching
Active stretching, also referred to as Agonist Contraction, is when you contract the muscle opposite to the one you are trying to stretch to elicit a reciprocal inhibition (relaxation of the target muscle). Also, engaging and strengthening muscles that oppose the stretched muscle improve the permanence of the effect of the stretch and encourage better muscle balance.
Active Hamstring Stretch Example: Lying on your back, pull your knee as close to your chest as possible with your fingers interlocked behind the knee joint. Activate your quadriceps by extending the knee so that your heel is pushed up towards the ceiling. Remember to keep the knee close to your chest even as you extend. Try to keep your opposite knee extended and flat on the ground to get the best stretch!
Bonus: 6. Use a Foam Roller
Although this is not technically classified as stretching, foam roller exercises are a great way to massage tight muscles and contribute to better mobility. It’s definitely worth adding foam rolling as a complement to your regular stretching routine.
IT Band Foam Roller Exercise Example: While lying on your side with the foam roller under you on the floor, roll between the top of the knee and the bottom of the greater trochanter (bony part on the side of the hip). Tip: Keep the top leg in front of your body with the foot planted on the floor to better control the movement.
Now that you know how important stretching is to improve your overall workout and you know what strategies to use to get the most out of each stretch, go ahead and start stretching daily. Once you start using the types you learned from this article on a regular basis, you’ll wonder why you ever stretched any other way.
Don’t forget to reach out to you local physiotherapist to help you figure out which of your muscles need the most attention as far stretching goes. They can help craft a stretching routine that is uniquely tailored to your specific needs.
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