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  • Reach and Hold...
    Rather than increase flexibility and warm up your muscles, the wrong type of stretch may even weaken your muscles rather than prepare them for action. Read >>
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Reach and Hold...

Is stretching a thing of the past?

Many of you reading this article were probably taught the wrong way to stretch in your high school P.E. class or athletic team. If you can remember back that far, you may recall your coach teaching you how to perform either static stretches or ballistic stretches. To do a static stretch, you get in a stretching position and hold for a certain number of seconds, and then relax. An example would be bending down and touching your toes. For ballistic stretches, get in a stretched position and bounce during the stretch. After stretching each of your major muscles, you’d go on to play your sport. Following your activity, you may have done some cool down stretches at the end of class or practice.

Even today, some of you may begin your workout sessions with static or ballistic stretches. After all, if you were raised doing certain types of stretches, it’s hard to break old habits. You may think you’re doing what’s best for your muscles, but recent research has shown this type of stretching can lead to injury and hamper your performance. Rather than increase flexibility and warm up your muscles, the wrong type of stretch may even weaken your muscles rather than prepare them for action.

What is the best way to stretch and at what point in your workout should you include stretches? Keep reading to find out.

Part 1: Warm Up

Stretching cold muscles is never a smart idea. You need to stretch, but not until you’ve done a short cardio warm up first. Depending on the exercise you plan to do, this could be walking or mild jogging for five minutes. This movement will get your muscles loosened and warmed up by increasing the blood flow.

Part 2: Pre-Workout Dynamic Stretches

Rather than following your warm up with static or ballistic stretches, try dynamic stretches instead. While the former way of stretching has you remain still in a position and hold the stretch, dynamic stretches involve controlled, flowing whole body movements to increase your muscles’ range of motion and warm your muscles. While preparing your muscles for action, dynamic stretches will also help improve your balance and muscle strength.

To warm up your lower body and core, try normal walking lunges, then lunge and twist your upper body. Walk along and lift your knees up to your chest. Then walk and bend your knee so as to kick yourself in the behind. Do several of each of these movements for 30 seconds each.

To warm up your arms, try doing windmills or twists.

No matter what dynamic stretches you choose, you never want to feel pain or burning while performing them.

Part 3: Post-Workout Static Stretches

Now is the time for static stretches. These will increase your flexibility, helping to relax and lengthen your muscles rather than get them warmed for action. Be sure to stretch individual muscles such as your quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves. Hold each position for about 30 seconds, repeating several times.

It’s okay to feel slight discomfort or mild burning while doing static stretches. This means your muscles are lengthening. Just don’t stretch to the point of pain.

Part 4: Sport Specific Stretches

Focus on stretches specific to your type of activity. It’s good to warm up all major muscle groups, but spend more time stretching the muscles that will get the most use. Soccer players should focus on their knees and hamstrings. Golfers should find stretches for their lower back. Football linemen should be sure to stretch their shoulders. Sport-specific stretching will decrease the chance of injury and helps you enjoy maximum performance.