Ask a group of personal trainers and fitness experts about stretching and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some support stretching before and after exercise, others only after, and others suggest planning a specific stretching session each week. With all the conflicting advice, it’s no wonder the average person is confused.
Why you should stretch
Let’s put aside the before or after debate for a second and think about the reasons stretching is considered important. Regular stretching helps to keep your muscles flexible which is important for everyday life. A lack of flexibility makes it difficult to perform everyday tasks such as bending down, reaching up, in front or behind you. Even the simple act of getting dressed or putting on your shoes can be difficult if you have poor flexibility. But more than that, regular stretching helps to remove any build of lactic acid in the muscles, increases blood flow, and can help prevent injuries.
Stretching before exercise
For many years fitness professionals have advised people to prepare for exercise with a few minutes of exercise followed by static stretches for the quadriceps, hamstrings, groin, calves, and upper body. However, most fitness professionals now agree that this is not necessarily the best method as performing static stretches before your muscles are properly warmed up can lead to injuries or hinder your training.
If you like to stretch prior to working out, it is now recommended to perform dynamic stretches instead. Dynamic stretching is a fancy term using to describe moving your joints, arms and legs, through their normal range of motion. Think about the swimmers preparing for an event during the Olympics. All that arm swinging they do before they stand on the blocks is dynamic stretching. By adding dynamic stretching to the start of your workout you will help to prepare your body for exercise by warming up the specific areas you are going to use.
Stretching after exercise
While stretching before exercise is optional, stretching after exercise is still considered important by fitness professionals. Stretching after exercise, especially static stretching or PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching is one of the best ways to remove lactic acid (and other toxins) from your muscles after exercise, and increase your flexibility while your muscles are warm and open to being stretched. (Our trainers can help show you how to perform these stretches).
Stretching after exercise is an important inclusion to your workout. The extra five or ten minutes it takes to stretch at the end of your session can be the difference between waking up stiff and sore tomorrow or being able to move freely. If you find yourself regularly cutting your stretching short, add one or two 30 minute stretching sessions or even a yoga class to your weekly routine. Try it for a couple of weeks and you’ll soon notice the difference it makes to both your performance and your recovery time.
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