On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I take spin classes at a local gym. This is my time to exercise without having to plan, organize, lead, and instruct. I was shocked to learn the one teacher doesn’t stretch. She’s been complaining about pain, and I shared with her the importance of stretching to prevent injuries. Her reply, “Who has time for that?” My answer to anyone who doesn’t make the time to stretch is: “Well, you better plan on spending time at the doctor’s or recovering from an injury because it isn’t an if but a when.
I’m stunned how many fitness instructors are not qualified or properly trained, but I’ll save my comments on that for another time. Today, I do want to share the importance of not only stretching but doing it properly. Stretching the right way helps keep you flexible, and as a result, will reduce the likelihood of an injury.
Three types of stretching were introduced long ago: Dynamic, Static, and Ballistic. Dynamic stretching is a fluid, movement-based stretch whereas static is a held stretch. Ballistic is a bouncing motion, and it has been exiled! After new research was conducted some 20 years ago, experts discovered Ballistic was extremely dangerous and should not be incorporated into any routine. If you learned to bounce up and down and in and out of a stretch, STOP! This can pull muscles by sheer force.
The other two stretches are safe when used at the right time. Dynamic stretches should mimic the exercise you are about to do. If you are preparing to run, you begin by walking slowly and then increase your speed. If you are getting ready to play tennis, you swing your arms and move your legs side to side. If biking, start off with a flat road or easy resistance then add a hill as you go. The goal is to warm up the muscles required in the exercise you are performing. DO NOT hold stretches before exercising. Static stretches should only be used afterwards.
Have you ever seen a frozen tree branch? If you were to bend it, it would snap. A regular, healthy, warm branch, though, bends with you. Our muscles are hard until we get moving, and by grabbing a leg and forcing a static stretch, you are putting stress and strain on the muscle. This can cause a muscle pull and cause you a lot of pain.
Dynamic stretching warms up the muscle but doesn’t force it. By moving, we allow the blood flow to switch over to the muscles being used. Once we have exercised (aerobics, weight lifting, cycling, playing tennis, running, etc.), the blood needs to return back to the whole body. The muscles are warm now, and we can hold a stretch to release it and allow the blood to flow out.
I’ve had plenty of clients through the years, and unfortunately, the military is so out of date. They still teach ballistic stretching and static stretching when the muscles are cold and hard. Many instructors don’t know any better and have participants hold stretches before a class. This is dangerous, and I encourage you to do what is safe for you.
Even in the classes I take, I don’t join in for sprints from the get go or heavy climbs out of the gate. I warm up my legs by cycling for a few minutes to allow the muscles to warm up. At races, I move and walk to prepare and won’t participate in the pre-race stretches because they cause more harm than good.
Now you are informed about the proper way to stretch! By stretching on a regular basis, you are preventing muscles from tightening up and pulling on other body parts. Lower back, hip, and knee pain are often associated with a tight IT (Iliotibial band) Bands, the tendon connecting your pelvic bone to the knee. The IT Band runs along the side of your leg, and when it tightens up, it pulls your back down, your hip sideways, and your knee up—all of which causes you pain!
I encourage you to stretch every single day, even if you haven’t worked out. Sitting, driving, and every-day activities can tighten up muscles. My book, Fit Over 50, offers photos and instructions for some excellent stretches to keep you forever fit!
Ginger Stahl says
Guess I’d better get out my book (your book) and read it for more tips. Hadn’t realized the 3 types of stretches. If nothing else, I definitely need stretching — awfully stiff when I get up in the AM and after sitting for quite a while. I just make a copy of this e-mail to remind me of what I should be doing. Thx!!!!!