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Stretching: Myth vs. Fact

By Abby Rasmussen

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Jun 24, 2014 10:00:00 AM

I feel like I’m always hearing conflicting advice about stretching. You shouldn’t stretch at all. You need to stretch every day. Only stretch before a workout. Only stretch after a workout. Hold every stretch for at least one minute. And so on and so forth. It can become extremely difficult to separate myth from fact. Research on stretching is ongoing and new findings will constantly be revealed to us, but some key conclusions remain constant. Although there are plenty of gray areas when it comes to our health and stretching, there are a few things that the experts agree on.yoga-warrior-pose

The first question that comes to mind regarding stretching is whether or not we should do it at all. The answer is yes. Stretching has many benefits when executed correctly. When done at least twice per week, stretching allows a wider range of motion in your joints. This increased range of motion makes it easier to perform daily activities and helps to improve your posture and balance. As you age, increased flexibility will also help to prevent injury and falls. There is no reason not to stretch frequently, but when and how?

As a child I was involved in many different sports as well as dance, and was taught to stretch before any workout, practice, performance, or game. This is not necessarily beneficial, however. Static stretching before you exercise can actually impair your strength and speed performance. Static stretching is any stretch that you hold for a given period of time, such as the standing toe touch or the standing thigh stretch. However, it is important to warm up before exercising, rather than simply stretching. Warming up should include dynamic stretches and depends on the type of workout you’re doing. Jumping jacks, arm swings, and lunges are all examples of dynamic stretches because they move the muscle group fluidly through the entire range of motion. Warming up helps prevent injury while exercising, which is why it’s so essential.

dynamic-stretching

While dynamic stretches are appropriate before workouts, static stretching can be more beneficial after exercising. Your muscles are warm after a workout, making it is less dangerous to stretch them as opposed to when they are cold. In order for stretching to be effective, you should hold it only until you feel a slight pulling on the muscle, but no pain. After you hold this stretch for a while, the muscle will start to relax and you will no longer feel tension. You can continue to increase your stretch in this manner until you no longer feel the pulling of the muscle.  

Among all the findings about stretching, here are a few key points to remember. You should stretch all of your major muscle groups at least twice per week to reap the benefits. Before you exercise, do a short warm-up of dynamic stretches and recover after a workout with static stretching. Listen to your body and know your limits to prevent injury. The amount and type of stretching should be personalized to the individual and his or her goals and workouts.

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Topics: Wellness

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