The Do’s and Don’ts of Stretching
By: Dr. Tara Hosie
There has been a lot of back and forth over the years with regards to stretching. Do I stretch before a workout or after? Static or dynamic stretching? How long? How often? What about foam rolling? Or yoga? In this blog post I will attempt to demystify some of the confusion surrounding stretching.
Stretching is important both before and after a workout but the type of stretching matters. Before a workout it is advised to warm-up the entire body by doing some type of cardiovascular activity such as a quick 5-10 minutes on the treadmill, bike, elliptical or stair climber. At the end of the warm-up you should feel a slight increase in your core temperature. Next you should be engaging in some dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching involves moving the major joints through their full ranges of motion. Examples of this would include jumping jacks, walking lunges, high knees, butt kicks, deep body weight squats and arm circles. Another 5-10 minutes of these dynamic movements and you should be good to go!
The reason that it is not advised to perform static stretching pre-workout is that it temporarily decreases the ability of the muscle to produce force at its full capacity which can lead to decreased performance as well as injury during your workout.
After a workout, once the body is fully warm, static stretching and/or foam rolling can play an important role in the cool down. Static stretching is what most of us picture when we think about stretching, it involves the stretch and hold movements. It is recommended to hold these stretches for 60 seconds each in order to get a good stretch. If the workout has been particularly intense be mindful not to overstretch the muscles as this can lead to injury.
Foam rolling has gained popularity recently due to its ability to get deep into the muscles and decrease tension and “knots” that can lead to post-workout soreness. Foam rolling is especially great for the lower body but one common misconception is that you should be rolling out your iliotibial band (ITB), the thick band of fascia which runs along the outside of your leg and attaches into your tibia (leg bone). The reason that is not effective and not necessary is that fascia has very little elasticity and therefore does not stretch in the same way that muscle does. You can suffer through the pain of foam rolling your ITB all day but its not going to get you anywhere. Foam rolling the muscles that attach into the ITB, however, can be effective in decreasing then tension along the ITB. These muscles are the tensor fascia lata (TFL), a relatively small muscle that sits right under your iliac crest (hip bone) and gluteus maximus, the largest of the butt muscles. It can also be effective to roll out the muscles that are just in front of the ITB, the vastus lateralis (quadricep) and just behind it, the semitendinosus (hamstring).
Yoga can be used as another stand-alone form of stretching. A yoga series typically targets all areas of the body and helps to bring awareness and attention to particular areas where you might be feeling increased tension and restrictions. Another benefit to a yoga practice is the breath work, yoga instructors are excellent at helping you focus your breath into these areas of tension and then releasing this tension with the exhale. This breath work is also considered a form of meditation and meditation has many benefits including decreased stress, increased concentration, reduced blood pressure and improved mood, to name a few.
There you have it, the basics of stretching.
If you are feeling prolonged tightness and restrictions in your mobility, be sure to book an appointment to have the problem assessed in order to prevent further pain and injury.