Stretching is good for you. We all know that, but how much is necessary? Is it going to fix your tight shoulders? What is a good routine? These are all valid questions that I will break down in this article.
First, let us define some key terms. Flexibility is “the ability of a joint or series of joints to move through an unrestricted, pain free range of motion.” For example, trying to get your thumb to touch your wrist with the assistance of your other hand. Mobility is “the ability to move or be moved freely and easily.” An example of this is, trying to get your thumb to touch your wrist WITHOUT the assistance of your other hand. It is a subtle difference between the two, but you want to understand that and program accordingly.
Secondly, let us define dynamic and static stretching. Dynamic stretching is actively taking a joint through its full range of motion, while static stretching is holding a stretched position for an extended period.
Now, why is flexibility/mobility important?
Being flexible is important because it will help prevent injuries, improve posture/balance, improve muscular strength/hypertrophy, and potentially lessen pain/aches. All these benefits combine for an improved quality of life.
The bigger question; how often do you stretch, and when are the optimal times?
You can break this down into 3 categories. Daily stretching (morning/night), Pre-Workout, and Post-Workout.
This can be a 10–30-minute routine consisting of dynamic (active movement) /static (passive holding) stretches. Think about the areas you are the tightest in and try and emphasize those in your routine. For example, the upper traps tend to be a tight spot for many. So, make sure to throw in an ear-shoulder stretch each morning. Maintain a full body routine but prioritize those tight spots.
This should be a 5–10-minute routine consisting of dynamic stretches. You want to focus on taking the muscles you are about to use through their full range of motion. Prioritize the muscles/movements you are going to use/do. For example, if you are going to barbell squat, you may throw in 3 sets of deep squats to activate the proper muscles and prepare them for the movement. You want to avoid static stretching here as it can have a negative impact on your strength and is not prepping your body for the movements during your workout.
This should be a 10–15-minute routine consisting of static stretches. This is the time to cool down your body and hold certain positions for an extended period. Prioritize the muscles/joints that you used during your workout here. For example, if you squatted today then take your hips/quadriceps through a couple of static stretches. Again, maintaining a full body routine here is a good idea however keep the emphasis on the muscles that were just used.
Together, those are your guidelines for becoming more flexible/mobile!
In summary, you should have a daily stretching routine and a pre/post exercise routine. Always prioritize your tight areas but maintain a full body routine. Be intentional with your pre/post workout stretches. Most importantly, be consistent with your routine. If you really want to reap the benefits you must be consistent.
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The importance of stretching. Harvard Health. (2022, March 14). Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching