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Stretching: Why Two Stretching Routines are Key to Good Health

stretching routine

By Kate Zanoni, LPTA

The benefits of stretching routines reach far beyond rehabilitation. Whether you’re an athlete, sedentary, a weekend warrior, young or old, active or inactive, you will reap the value of a regular stretching routine.

In general, stretching is the elongation of a muscle and is used to help prevent injury and discomfort. However, there are different types of stretching that are important to distinguish. One is best implemented as a warm-up to prepare your body for exercise and the other is best used as a cool-down to reduce post-activity muscle soreness.

For the longest time, we were told that static stretching was the proper way to loosen up our muscles prior to training or competition. However, we are now aware of the use of dynamic stretching and how this is now heavily advocated as a far more beneficial warm-up exercise in order to maximize performance. It’s important to ensure your muscles and joints are properly prepared for any type of exercise. Participating in exercise without warming up first puts you at risk for an injury because it places added stress on soft tissue structures that haven’t been prepped for activity.

The effectiveness of your warm-up can not only affect the likelihood of injury, but also directly impacts your ability to perform to your maximum capacity. As such, dynamic stretching plays a major role in maximizing your performance levels and should be a key part of any warm-up.

Dynamic or ballistic stretching is the elongation of your muscles while moving through your available range of motion to prepare your muscles for activity. This type of stretching is an important component to a warm-up because it increases your muscles’ core temperature and gets your blood pumping to lay the groundwork for more movement. Ballistic stretching improves the range of motion around your joints, reducing the chances of injury. Over time, this will improve your performance, regardless of the intensity of the activity, and maximize your movements due to the increase in the mobility of your joints and flexibility of your muscles.

Dynamic stretching includes activity-specific and sports-specific warm-ups that prepare your body for particular movements during your sports or activity. If you are an athlete, this method of stretching gets your body into competition mode. Regardless of your activity level, dynamic stretching helps you develop fundamental movement skills through an available range of motion using more than one muscle group at the same time.

An example of dynamic stretching is a knee-to-chest warm-up.

  • Stand with your feet approximately hip width apart.
  • March one knee up toward your chest and gently pull it in with both hands, release and repeat with your other leg.
  • This helps increase blood flow into your legs and increases your circulation. This is a great warm-up activity to perform before walking, hiking, running or playing any sport.

Static stretching, on the other hand, is the slow elongation of a muscle or muscle group over a period of time to increase elasticity. This type of stretching is performed at the end range of motion without dynamic movement. Static stretches help improve overall flexibility of a single muscle or muscle group at one time, leading to increased joint mobility. The result of a static stretch is increased range of motion, muscle control and flexibility. Gradual, permanent tissue change develops from a slow-paced stretch held for at least 20-30 seconds.

The most effective way to achieve lasting tissue change with a static stretch is to hold it for at least 20-30 seconds, repeat it three times and perform it twice daily after exercise. Static stretching is best implemented after activity as a cool-down because your core temperature decreases with a gradually progressive stretch. The more a muscle can lengthen, the more work it can do. When a muscle is too tight, its function can be restricted, increasing your risk for injury if your muscles can’t operate optimally. An elongated muscle helps improve your biomechanics to ensure your body functions at its highest capacity.

An example of a static stretch is a calf stretch.

  • Stand in front of a wall with your feet slightly staggered one in front of the other
  • Slightly lunge toward the wall with both heels down until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf.
  • Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat it three times.
  • This stretch is beneficial as a cool-down activity after walking, hiking, running or playing any sport. It will reduce muscle tension and relieve post-exercise muscle soreness.

If you would like to learn more about stretching, our expert therapists and athletic trainers are on hand to help you understand movement patterns for optimal health and performance. Our movement specialists at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center are well versed in static and dynamic stretching techniques for all ages and activity levels. Call our office today at 703-450-4300 to schedule an evaluation and begin your journey toward ideal biomechanics.

CLICK HERE for a full warm-up and cool down demo you can try on your own. 

 

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