Stretching for Flexibility, Safety, and Fitness
Everyone’s heard it’s important to stretch; the question is, why?
Stretching can do a world of good for you – but can also create harm. It also isn’t always necessary; most of the time, after workouts, all you need to do is:
- Stretch lightly (often, this is optional)
- Drink lots of water
Different types of stretching
Dynamic, Static and Ballistic: What should you do, when?
Dynamic stretching means you go into a stretch position, push slightly and gently where there’s tension, then release after 2-3 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times based on how intense your workout will be.
This is usually done at the start of a workout, after a proper warmup. You gradually increase a pose as you go deeper into the stretch.
This is good for getting muscles into their full range of motion, and is a smart way to get localized blood flow.
Stretching after exercise
Static stretching is usually performed after exercising.
Static stretching involves holding a pose for a longer period of time, and is the most frequent type of stretching we see people do.
While there’s a feeling of accomplishment as you go deeper into the stretch, static stretching is somewhat controversial among trainers who focus on strength building. Making an area more flexible without also strengthening it can actually weaken the muscle, especially if you do a deep stretch before strength training. The difference is often only 5-10%, but often that’s the amount of extra resistance to apply during training.
Ideally, if you’d like to become more flexible in an area, warm it up first with light cardio or a short 8fit workout, then divide the stretching time into about 60% dynamic and 40% static.
Static stretching is great to flush the blood out of tense, tight muscles. It allows you to go deeper and squeeze out more toxins, metabolic waste and lactic acid.
Static stretching can be mixed in at the end of dynamic stretching if a muscle is starting to knot or your range of motion is limited.
Muscles can also become tight from overcompensation – working too hard – because opposing or surrounding muscles are too weak. Always have a purpose in stretching; know why you’re doing it, and what type is best for your intended purpose.
Stretching for low back pain
There are many ways to change your body. Many people who work on computers frequently (which is most of us!) often find their scapulas and lats (latissimus dorsi) weak. This is changing your body unintentionally; if you know how your muscles work, you can regain balance and reverse the damage.
Muscles can tighten to compensate because they aren’t strong enough to maintain the endurance required to hold your arms out in front of you at an unnatural position.
If a trainer, therapist or just good ol’ testing with weights show you one muscle group is comparatively weak, stretching it more often may actually be the wrong thing to do!
If you have a pelvic tilt, which can often cause back pain, stretching the psoas and hip flexors can help reverse it.
You also need to strengthen the muscles that stabilize your pelvis, like your glutes, which you can do with squats, bridges, and biking.
Alternatives to stretching
We created full body workouts to help you loosen up and strengthen every part of your body, so stretching and strengthening will happen naturally. Exercise in general is a fantastic way to restore balance to your body, and often the need for stretching occurs because a muscle is underused.
So, while you can stretch for specific benefits on specific muscle groups, remember that stretching is just one specific type of activity, It’s often more efficient to just work out, which you should do 4-5x a week to be in great shape, health and mobility.
You’ll also be saving yourself from much pain, discomfort and possible long-term chronic issues.
This type of stretching can be dangerous. This is the type of stretching where you do quick, intense movements, like throw many rapid kung fu strikes.
Martial arts is fun and awesome, but because of the intensity, you can unintentionally hyperextend your muscles.
The same risk is present in many workout classes. Ideally, when you’re doing a fast movement, aim for “95% extension.”
If you extend all the way, all the time, you’ll push yourself to extend just a bit farther by the nature of the fast movement.
Instead of getting caught up in the moment, practice mindfulness and don’t fully throw out your hand, arm, knee or foot. You’ll be developing mental conditioning along with the physical workout, and simultaneously keep your body safer and healthier.