Here we are… already in the month of July!! We can now begin taking our aerobic activities outdoors and enjoy the spring freshness. The Cardiogenix Team is starting to get ready for all the spring and summer activities by stepping outside, finally being able to enjoy the sunshine and get back into the groove of exercising outdoors. Getting healthy and fit outdoors is one of the best parts of summer. As we are all preparing for an incredible season, one question remains unanswered: should we stretch before or after a workout session?
We have had that question in mind for a while, and because we are surrounded by incredible doctors, nurses, and athletic therapists… we took action and got informed about this important part of our workout. To start, we learned that Flexibility refers to the measure of range of motion a joint has, and it is affected by factors such as age, gender and activity level. In other words, we are all different when it comes to flexibility; however, with proper training, we can all reach a personal goal for stretching.
Warm Up Stretches
So for us to understand stretching, and to properly implement it, we have to analyze how various workout routines are structured. Some of us prefer to go for a long distance run, others do shorter high intensity workouts, as well as strength training. With this information in mind, we learned that most of these routines don’t start with a warm body, so the best stretching technique is dynamic stretching, because as you are stretching your body, you will also warm up at the same time. Dynamic stretching is when a muscle is stretched while moving, commonly used in pre-training warm ups. We also learned that warming up prior to an exercise session, through the use of dynamic stretching, can decrease risks of injury. Increasing the muscle temperatures as a result increases the resistance to muscle tears, while preparing your body for a great workout. Warm ups that include dynamic stretches work through a whole range of motions; here are some awesome dynamic stretching examples that you can implement before your workout:
- Circular movements of the arms and legs.
- Specific movements of increased intensity such as sprinting drills, bounding activities or light jogging and hopping drills.
Once we are all warmed up with dynamic stretches, we could all get our workout started. Whether you work out for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or a few hours, your muscles will be well stretched and warmed for your exercise. Thus far, we have determined that we must stretch before our workouts, but what about after? Do we repeat our dynamic stretches or are we just ready to take a good chocolate milk and end our routine?
Cool Down Stretching
Well, that was another learning experience for our team when our athletic therapist mentioned that we also need to stretch after our workout to make it more complete and effective for our muscles. For some of us, this didn’t sound hard knowing that we get tired after our workout. What we didn’t know is that the best stretch after a workout is the static stretch. This is the most common stretching technique and it is when a muscle is placed in a lengthened position and held for an amount of time. This works best after a workout because your muscles are warm and it will decrease your risk of injury. We also learned that in order for this type of stretch to work at its best, it needs to be held for 20 to 30 seconds and repeated 2-3 times! Remember that the goal of a stretch is not to hurt yourself but to have more flexibility, so when you are stretching, do not pull your muscles until it hurts, you should rather pull until you feel a good stretch. Always stretch both sides equally. Despite the fact that one side may be more or less flexible than the other, it is important to stretch both sides equally for the same amount of time.
Here are some great points to think about when stretching before or after your workout:
- Make sure you focus on larger muscle groups that you are using during your activity. If you are running, make sure you stretch-out muscles of the thighs, hips, glutes, and calves. Whereas if you are doing an upper body workout, think of stretching the chest, shoulders and back.
- It is crucial to breathe throughout the stretch to facilitate stretching.
- Keep up with your stretching… although it may be time consuming, stretching regularly can have great benefits. The number 1 cause of low back pain is a lack of flexibility. Try to implement it into your routine, so it ends up being done a few times a week.
We are now all ready to have a complete and safe work out!! To conclude, a proper workout should include a warm up and a cool down incorporating stretches! Dynamic stretches are great to do before your workout to help warm up. Stretches of a static nature should always be done after an exercise session to help increase the range of motion through our joints and decrease risks of injuries. Note that inflexibility, hyper flexibility or even an imbalance in flexibility can increase risk of injuries. That being said a stretch should be held at a point of mild discomfort but NOT pain.
Some stretches can also be harmful for individuals with certain conditions, or if they are not done properly. Please refer to a health professional, who can give you an adequate flexibility program that may be beneficial. Feel free to stop by Cardiogenix to discuss proper stretching with our health professionals!
Ian Shrier, MD, PhD; Kav Gossal, MD. Myths and Truths of Stretching: Individualized Recommendations for Healthy Muscles. The Physician and SportsMedicine -Vol 2-No.8 August 2000.