The Basics Of Stretching

October 25, 2017

COMMENTARY by
Kimbre Zahn, MD, IU Health Physicians Family Practice – Artistry

Stretching offers many benefits, including stronger muscles and improved flexibility. And while stretching is often paired with exercise, it’s important to know when stretching during physical activity is most beneficial.

Until recently, it was believed that stretching before a workout or sports activity reduced the chance of injury. Research now suggests this isn’t the case. A warmup before exercise, which means engaging in light activities that increase heart rate, is more effective at preventing injuries because an elevated heart rate increases blood flow and oxygen to the muscles. Warm-up activities can include elements of stretching, such as lunges, high kicks, pushups and jump squats. These warmups boost heart rate, while also preparing the muscles for exercise.

We now know that stretching is most beneficial after exercise. Post-workout stretching relieves tension, allowing the muscles to relax. Because the body is already warm from exercise, stretching after physical activity also lengthens muscle tissue.

Take full advantage of stretching by following these simple tips:

• Concentrate on large muscle groups, which benefit the most from stretching. Target shoulders and neck, legs, hips, and the lower back.
• Be sure to stretch evenly on both sides.
• Avoid bouncing while stretching. This can lead to injuries.
• Keep breathing while you stretch, exhaling as you move into the stretch.
• Don’t overstretch. To improve flexibility, you must stretch and hold a muscle beyond its normal point; however, be sure to stop stretching if you feel pain. Stretch muscles to a comfortable point and hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
• Make stretching a part of your daily routine. In addition to stretching first thing in the morning, overhead-arm stretches and even squats can be beneficial during the day, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting.

While stretching and exercise improve physical fitness and health, it’s important to talk with your primary care doctor before starting an exercise program. This is particularly true if you are recovering from injuries or have musculoskeletal disease. Your doctor can answer questions, advise about activities to avoid and identify exercises and stretches that are most likely to benefit you personally.

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