The Ins and Outs of Stretching

As a youngster, I never felt the need to stretch but unfortunately, as we grow older, the range of motion in all of our joints will shorten unless we do something to keep that from happening.

Over the years, the recommendations regarding stretching have evolved. Whether I was a student athlete playing softball or a young adult playing volleyball, I certainly remember hearing that everyone should stretch before exercising or playing a sport.  I also remember seeing people bounce up and down trying to touch their toes in order to stretch their back. The sight of that would make me cringe today.

First of all, research has found that stretching cold muscles will do more harm than good and may cause injury. Your muscles need to be warm in order to be stretched safely and effectively without tearing.  Think of your muscles just as you would taffy, when they are warm, they are soft and pliable, if they are cold, they will snap and break.  You can warm up your muscles many different ways, a quick 5 to 6 minute ride on an exercise bike or doing a few minutes of jumping jacks are just a couple of examples.  Your warm up doesn’t necessarily have to be a cardio activity, all you need is something to warm you up and make your muscles warm, soft and pliable.  A nice, hot shower will do the trick.  It is part of my daily routine to stretch every day after my shower.

Stretching should not be painful. According to the ACSM guidelines, you should stretch your WARM muscles to the point of slight discomfort, not pain.  A muscle should be gently stretched (no bouncing!) until you feel a slight pull and then held for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat each stretch 3 to 5 times at least 2 days per week.

Stretching on a regular basis helps to coerce your muscles to stay lengthened which will keep your joints’ range of motion at their max.

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This post was written by Patti on January 24, 2013

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