The main purpose of stretching is to increase flexibility and range of motion around the joints. This increased flexibility aids us in daily activities, sports, and exercise. Although many people think stretching is done to reduce the chance of muscle soreness, there is actually not a lot of research to support this.
One of the main issues I see at the gym is that people think stretching is their “warm-up”… basically it is all they do before they get onto a treadmill or elliptical! A warm-up is meant to transition your body from rest to exercise, and stretching does not accomplish this. A warm up should be a 5-10 minute period of lower intensity aerobic exercise allowing increased blood flow to your muscles and to get your cardiovascular system ready for increased exercise intensity.
Tips for Stretching Correctly:
- Stretching should be performed after each exercise session because you get the most benefit from stretching when your muscles are warm. Additionally, stretching cold muscles can cause injury or pull a muscle. If you like stretching before your exercise session, you should do a warm-up first, and then perform your stretches.
- Each stretch should be held for 15-30 seconds. It is recommended to do 2-4 holds of each stretch to get the most benefit. You should stretch to the point of mild discomfort within the muscle, but not to the point of pain!
- Focus on the muscle you are trying to stretch. Many people put their arms and legs into a position that looks like a stretch they have seen before, but don't really focus on stretching the actual muscle!
- Don't bounce your stretches. Bouncing while stretching can cause injury to your muscle. You should perform static stretches which are stretches held in place in order to gently stretch the muscle fibers.
- Be sure to stretch all of your major muscle groups. See the photos below for an example of a stretch for each one.
What's your favorite stretch?
Upper Back Stretch