A Guide to Stretching Properly

Most Crossfit LungesCadets, athletes, and exercising enthusiasts understand that stretching is important to keep muscles loose and avoid injuries during a workout. The importance doesn’t start nor stops with those that are active. The truth is that stretching is important for every individual’s well being and should be included in your daily routine.

Stretching increases blood flow throughout the body, boosting oxygen levels and helping to deliver nutrients to muscles, while removing metabolic waste. The benefits to stretching seem endless. While stretching does improve your posture, reduce stress, ease joint and back pain, and prevent injuries, research shows that stretching also can help individuals with conditions such as diabetes and depression.

For better insight into the importance of stretching, we provide a list of the types of stretches below. It helps to show what you should be doing, when you should be stretching and how stretching will benefit your overall health and well-being.

When to Stretch?

Many individuals associate stretching with flexibility. For this reason, it is typical to see a runner touching his toes and holding that position for a few minutes prior to hitting the road. Current research tells us that static stretching; a form of stretching used for when the body is at rest, should be left to the end of a workout, or performed periodically throughout one’s day to awaken rested muscles.

Static stretching before a workout should be avoided. Studies show that static stretching before a workout can reduce athletic performance during their workout. On the other hand, dynamic stretching, such as walking lunges, high knees and leg kicks, can improve exercise performance. Exercise physiologist Jacque Crockford, MS, CSCS, a fitness expert with the American Council on Exercise, states, “an active, dynamic warm-up is a better way to prepare the body for activity, as this type of stretching helps to increase body temperature, enhances joint flexibility, and increases muscle elasticity through a range of motion, functionally preparing the body for the activity to come.”

By performing dynamic stretching prior to rigorous activity, the results are increased speed, strength and power, and reduced risk of injury. After your workout, as a way to cool down, you should engage in static stretches to decrease muscle tension and increase muscle relaxation. Some examples of static stretching are a standing quadriceps stretch, cobra pose, back and/or side bends, and chest stretch. Completing five-10 minutes of post-workout stretching will help reduce your body’s recovery time between workouts.

squats (2)How to Stretch?

Depending on the type of activity or workout you will engage in, you should participate in dynamic stretches that use the same muscles as those of the workout you’re about to perform. For example, if you plan on lifting weights that day, you should stretch your calves, hamstrings, and quads by doing the following exercises: lunges, squats and calf-raises. By mimicking the activity you will be doing in your workout during your post-workout, you will elevate your heart rate, while heating up the muscles and joints that you will soon use.

After your workout you can avoid muscle soreness and reduce your recovery time by using a few items: a lacrosse ball and a foam roller. According to Kelly Starrett,  a former elite-level athlete, hybrid coach, physical therapist, author and CrossFit instructor, 10 minutes of mobility work each day can prevent injuries and improve circulation. As seen in Starrett’s WODMobility video, using two lacrosse balls taped together while performing overhead passes will loosen tension in your back. In addition, using a foam-roller along your back, quads and calves will literally roll away muscle soreness.

Stretching to improve flexibility and mobility is the most important part of achieving fitness. You need proper care for your muscles and tendons in order to perform at your best. Understanding when to stretch and how to stretch will help you avoid injuries, increase your athletic performance, and help you to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle.