The Importance of Stretching
By Julie Alvira, MD, MBA
What happens when a trainer has a client that is 35 years of age with the flexibility of a person who is 70 years old? One of the top fitness trends this year is stretching. All of us have known about stretching since we were kids in PE class, but it wasn’t until recently that stretching has become trendy.
Stretching has been associated with yoga, but nowadays establishments solely focusing on stretching are popping up everywhere. Luckily, we can take advantage of summer season and stretch outside in the company of Mother Nature. Smell the flowers or the salty scent of the ocean, feel the breeze caressing your cheeks––inhale, exhale, and you are ON! Think of stretching as part of the workout for your brain routine where mind and body connect to increase vitality and longevity.
How stretching can help you?
Besides relieving tension and stress, and enhancing body posture, according to a 2013 study by Harvard Medical School, the benefits of stretching also include:
- keeping our muscles flexible
- increasing and maintaining range of motion in joints
- increasing flexibility
- reducing the risk of injury
The American Academy of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends stretching at least twice per week. The question lots of people have asked me is, do I stretch before or after exercise? My answer is, “Both.” But, there’s a twist to the answer. They’re different stretches to incorporate before and after exercise.
Before exercise, you should do dynamic stretching. After your workout, you should do static stretching. Dynamic stretching, which is part of a warm up, helps prepare our bodies and joints for activity by helping increase blood flow and muscle temperature. The movements are different from static. Example: Before squats you may want to dynamic stretch the hip flexors, which are the tightest muscles in the body.
Static stretching is better done in different angles and depends on the intensity. You don’t want to stretch an area with lots of intensity for a long time because of muscle hypoxia. The popular knowledge or general guideline is to spend 30 seconds in a stretch. That depends on a number of factors including age, area, intensity, injuries, atrophy, scar tissue, and muscle fatigue. If a person uses static stretching in an area prior to a workout, it might translate into a decrease in strength and power. Research on this matter continues since it’s controversial and there’re opposite views on efficacy.
Advice: Remember, to gain lots of flexibility, time is your friend. Increased flexibility won’t happen in just one stretch session in one day. It will happen over time.
Advice: Do not try to stretch when the body is cold. You need blood flow to the areas.
Where can you stretch?
Stretch labs and studios across the nation are becoming very popular. Their focus is to educate individuals that stretching is not just part of a yoga routine. If a person is not into yoga but wants to learn how to stretch properly, boutique studios are filling the gap by offering stretch classes and private sessions.
Summer season: Take advantage of the season and/or if you live in the tropics or are on vacation and stretch outdoors or in front of the ocean, a lake, creek, or a beautiful mountain. Just remember with static stretching to make sure the muscles are warmed up to decrease muscle stiffness.
Are you going too far?
Practicing static stretching should not hurt or make you feel pain. The “ouch” that you might feel should be a mild discomfort or tightness, but not pain. Remember that stretching elongates muscle fibers. Inhale, exhale, and don’t restrict breathing. Stretching is about increasing flexibility and balance. To get the most benefits, a person should do it regularly and make it part of their weekly routine.
Julie Alvira, MD, MBA, is the owner of Coach Dr. Julie, LLC. www.coachdrjulie.com. Julie helps clients in recovery get unstuck in their eating and physical exercise habits. She’s a certified master health and wellness coach, certified addictions recovery coach, and a certified advanced clinical interventionist. Contact her at email@example.com for a virtual or face-to-face session at her office.