Everyone wants muscles that are flexible and strong. Stretching is an important element to maintain healthy muscles and an optimal range of motion in the joints. Many Americans focus on strength training and cardio but shortchange the power of stretching.
Static and dynamic stretching techniques are essential for maintaining efficient movement and reducing the chance of injuries. Everyone, not just athletes, should include stretching into their fitness and health programs.
What Is Static Stretching
For many, static stretching is what comes to mind when they think of stretching: holding a position as the muscle lengthens. The goal of static stretching is to move the muscle to the extent of its range of motion.
Static stretching should not be performed when the muscles are cold. Don’t get up from your desk after hours of sitting and push your muscles to stretch. Static stretching also isn’t appropriate at the beginning of a workout or athletic event. Doing so can limit the muscles’ ability to react quickly and weaken performance. After your run, golf game, weightlifting, or cardio class is an ideal time to take those already-warm muscles to their fullest length. Static stretches are generally held for 30 seconds or longer.
What Is Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching helps to warm up the muscles before activity. This type of stretching is also useful if you have been sitting for a long period of time. Dynamic stretching loosens muscles and joints and increases circulation in the body. If you are feeling fatigued at your desk, slow dynamic stretches may be just the ticket to increasing your productivity. When preparing for a workout or athletic event, start with slow movements to take the body through ranges of motion then include faster movements to prepare the body more fully for the activity. Doing so will decrease the chance of injuries like a pulled muscle.
Overall Benefits of Stretching
Limber muscles that can take joints through their full range of motion are big benefits of stretching. Everyday tasks like reaching from the driver’s seat to the back seat, getting up from playing with children on the floor, and reaching for a dish in a kitchen cabinet all come more easily when you take care of your body.
Stretching benefits include the following:
- Reduces fatigue by increasing blood flow
- Increased mobility/joint range of motion
- Improves posture
- Reduces the chance of injuries
- Enhances stability and balance
Aim to include stretching into your routine at least three times per week. Stretching is safe to do every day when it is performed correctly.
Safety Tips When Stretching
Reducing injuries is a benefit of stretching but stretching can also cause injuries if it is done incorrectly.
Here are some stretching safety tips:
- Warm up. Never stretch a cold muscle. At a minimum, take a short walk to increase circulation in the body before holding any static stretches. Muscles will then be more receptive to the lengthening that happens during a stretch.
- Don’t rush. In dynamic stretching, movements begin slow and intentional. In static stretching, ease into a stretch. Don’t immediately take the muscle to its fullest stretch. You can slowly go deeper as you hold the stretch.
- Don’t feel pain. In dynamic stretching, you should feel the activity of the muscles and joints. In static stretching, you will feel the lengthening of the muscle. In both cases, you should not feel pain. If you do, you are taking the muscle too far or too fast. Never force a stretch.
- Don’t bounce. Bouncing as you stretch can injure the muscle as well as tendons and ligaments. Stretching should be a slow, smooth movement.
- Breathe. Many people forget to breathe in times of stress. Stretching places gentle stress on the body, leading some to hold their breath. Holding your breath sends a signal to your brain and your muscles that you are in protection mode. The muscles will fight the stretch. Sink naturally deeper into the stretch on each exhale. Not only is this good for the muscle but breathing slowly also helps to calm the mind and reduce anxiety.
- Stick with it. Like so much in life, real and sustaining benefits are found through consistency. Stretching once a month or when the mood strikes will not provide all the benefits stretching can bring. Create a routine that enables you to stretch three to five times every week. Better results will follow.
By taking care to stretch properly, you are more likely to reap the benefits of stretching.
When to See a Physical Therapist
Stretching is appropriate for most people. There are those, though, that should consult with a physical therapist to design an appropriate stretch (and exercise) program. They also can guide you on proper form to reduce the chance of hurting yourself.
A physical therapist should create your stretch routine in the following situations:
- You are currently injured.
- You have a chronic injury or condition.
- You have hypermobile joints.
- You have other physical limitations.
The movement pros at ProFysio Physical Therapy can create a stretch and exercise routine specifically for your needs. Our mission is to help our New Jersey neighbors lead an active and pain-free lifestyle. We believe in individualized treatment plans that use updated methods and state-of-the-art technology.
You do not need a prescription or referral to access physical therapy expertise and services.
If you need help designing your stretch routine, contact us to schedule a free consultation. Call (732) 812-5200 to schedule an appointment at one of our four locations: Aberdeen, East Brunswick, Edison, or Old Bridge.