A research project has come out recently that disagrees with previous statements regarding the benefit of stretching. Perhaps you have been reading about it and how new theories say that it doesn’t prevent injuries. Don’t give up on stretching just yet, though. Let me explain what “experts” are really saying.
You’ve seen a cat stretch before, haven’t you? As their tail end goes high in the air and their head low to the ground, they stretch the length of their entire body. They are known for their ability to move their bodies in some unique and creative positions, too. The saying next to the cartoon cat licking its bottom is “Because I can.” Ha! Granted, cats have more vertebra than humans and the tendons to move outside of normal ranges of motion, but there is a benefit from stretching, especially when you know what type of stretching to use for what occasion.
So, let me explain the different types of stretching first because three kinds exist: ballistic, static and rhythmic limbering. Ballistic is VERY old school. It is the one where you bounce through the stretch or pulse. Pretty much everyone in the fitness industry agrees that this isn’t safe or effective for the general population. It is not taught in classes with certified instructors. I wouldn’t recommend it for any one simply because the risks outweigh the benefits. Static stretching is when you hold the stretch for a count of say 20 seconds. The quad stretch is a good example. The leg/heel is brought behind the body to the glut and is held for a count of 20 seconds. The front of the leg (quad) gets elongated and stretched. These types of stretches are great for post workouts. The muscles are already warmed up from exercise, so holding them in a static position allows the muscle to release. These stretches on the front end, however, when the muscle is cold, may not be as effective for aerobic classes with lots of movement. This is where latest findings report no correlation to injury prevention. With their test subjects, static stretches didn’t seem to help or make a difference as opposed to those who didn’t stretch. The problem is that their research doesn’t take into account flexibility, which is a critical part of total health. If we aren’t flexible, we have a tendency to incur injury. Stretching is the key to flexibility, thus why we must still incorporate it into our regime.
The last type of stretch is limbering. This stretch is a pre-warm up stretch. It mirrors the activity that you will be participating in, but the intensity is reduced. Aerobic, kickboxing and cycle classes use these. You go through moves that will be done later in the class…like a front kick. In warm up, you will kick low and easy. During the class, you will kick harder and higher. Limbering stretches do prepare your body for the work out and will, in my opinion, will not only improve your performance since the muscles are prepared but will indeed help prevent injury because you will be more flexible.
I didn’t stretch much during my younger days, and after a while, I was so tight that I lost movement. How can that be good? It isn’t! Once I began stretching before and after my workouts, I became more flexible and gained strength. In addition, I didn’t experience pulled muscles or pain like I did in my youth. And if I sustained an injury from overuse or overworking myself, I healed much quicker.
Think of a Minneapolis winter when it is 30 below zero. Cars need to be warmed up because the engine is stone cold. Well, your muscles are the same way. If you jump right into working out, you have chances of pulling a muscle. But, if you warm them up properly, they will be more pliable for the workload ahead. Just remember to apply the right stretch for the right situation. Holding stretches before a work out are good for sports, but for fitness classes, try the limbering instead. The body was designed to move, so movement prior to forceful exercise can only help work you towards your goal, without slowing you down with an unwanted injury.
Bottom line: a little prevention and stretching can go a long way. Stretching IS the cat’s meow. Now excuse me, I have to stretch out my fingers from typing….
Welcome back to school! Fall isn’t just about the kids heading back to the classroom, but it is a perfect opportunity for adults to embark on something new. I recently read that the Internet and all the modes of social media are actually reducing our brain power down to caveman days. Their premise is that we scan and skim everything and don’t really focus on one thing; we are never really ever in just one moment but multiple thoughts and places.
So I have a challenge for you: pick one thing to focus on for the month of September. It might be getting in shape or learning a new language. It’s anything you have been meaning to do or just wanted to try. But I want you to concentrate on that one thing you choose. Put yourself into it; study it and apply what you learn. Try to do something each and every day to stay on track. By the end of the month, you will have strengthened a part of your brain that we seem to be lax in using in light of technology. And, you will have accomplished that one thing!