I was one of those people that didn’t believe a workout was worth much if I couldn’t feel it the next day. To me, the purpose of training was the hard stuff, and all that soft stretching got in the way of the good parts.
I learned otherwise when a running injury left me unable to leave the couch for a month. The cause? Insufficient stretching. My hamstring muscles had shortened, so that when I landed improperly during a run, my leg collapsed.
I later found out that if I had just stretched for just 5 to 10 minutes a day, that entire unpleasant experience could have been completely avoided.
I was lucky because this injury was short-lived and almost fully recovered. (I still get slight twinges if I overdo it jumping which shouldn’t happen much but I love dancing so it’s more common than it would otherwise be.)
In the years since this injury, I’ve learned so much about stretching and anatomy. Now as a personal trainer, I say stretching is the MOST important part of your workout and your daily mobility. Read on to find out why.
Why stretching matters
You are consciously or subconsciously contracting your muscles every single day even if you’re not training. Most of the time you are contracting in the exact same way over and over again. For example, when you sit down your shoulders contract forward, your spine rounds and your hip flexors contract inward.
The cumulative effect of these repetitive movements is tightness, limited mobility, muscular compensations (the wrong muscle takes over because it’s stronger and used more). And often there’s pain.
But it doesn’t have to be that way!
Consistent stretching can make a huge difference in your mobility, flexibility and alignment and help to counteract damage done by repetitive movement.
How to stretch
DAILY stretching is the ideal – even if it’s just 5 minutes.
Stretches should be each held for a minimum of 30 seconds or 10 to 12 breaths. (For daily stretching you’ll want to hit the areas mentioned later in this article.)
However, it’s equally important to stretch BEFORE a workout as well as after – especially if the workout involves weight or high impact movements like running. These stretch sessions should be anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes EACH.
The goal is still 30 seconds or more per stretch but what you stretch will depend on what areas you’re going to train. So if you’re going to run for example, you would want to stretch the hip flexors, calves, quads and glutes as a minimum.
Your pre-workout stretch needs to be dynamic usually. That means moving stretches. These should target the muscles groups you will use and/or mimic the movements you will do in a less intense form. For example, if you’re going to be running you might ‘high knees’ or ‘knee taps’ as a warm-up exercise.
Your post-workout stretch can be static/non-moving and should again target the muscle areas that you worked. This is usually where you would hold the stretches for a bit longer (30 seconds or above.)
The most important stretches
In terms of WHAT you want to stretch, it depends on the exercises you’ll be doing but for daily stretching most of us can benefit from stretching these areas:
- Hamstrings (back of leg between knee and glutes)
- Hip Flexors (inner thigh area near pelvis)
- Lower Back
See examples of the most effective stretches here: https://tinyurl.com/stretch-library
By following these guidelines you will not only avoid many injuries, you’ll also feel a lot of the pain and tightness in your muscles disappear. The difference you’ll make from just a few dedicated moments to stretching will be incredible.
A small price to pay for such big benefits, right?