Who needs to stretch? Do not assume that you do not need to stretch because you are an athlete, it could cost you your athletic career. Dynamic stretching prior to physical activity improves circulation and balance and prepares your body physically and mentally for training or competition.
- Static stretching after training increases flexibility, lengthens shortened (contracted) muscle fibers, increases the body-mind connection and aids your recovery. That 3-5 minute period immediately after your workout is ideal for stretching to increase flexibility as your muscles and tissues are warm and more receptive.
The New York Hospital for Special Surgery , known for treating the most complex athletic injuries suggests that EVERY athlete should stretch as:
- Stretching increases your range of motion and flexibility by lengthening soft tissues such as muscles and ligaments.
- Stretching promotes fluid movement during athletic performance, decreases soreness after training or competition, and minimizes injury.
- Stretching or flexibility training should be based on the individual needs and physical demands of the athlete’s activities.
- Warm up before you stretch. The Berkeley Wellness Center at the University of California suggests that you always warm up before stretching. Do a brief (5- to 10-minute) warm up, jogging in place, brisk walking, riding a stationary bike or doing light weight versions of the movements you are about to perform.
Warming up increases your heart rate and blood flow and raises the internal temperature of your muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Stretching cold muscles may injure them, and exertion without a warm up can lead to abnormal heart rate and blood flow and abnormal changes in blood pressure.
3. Stretch slowly and carefully. Ease into your stretch and hold at the point of slight tension. After about 15 seconds, if the tension has eased up, go a little further into the stretch. If the tension does not ease, back out of the stretch, relax the muscle and then resume the stretch.
Hold your static stretches for about 60 seconds going a little deeper into the stretch every 15 seconds or so. Focus on how your muscles are responding to your stretches, if you feel pain, or pulling in the muscle, ease out of the stretch.
Note: Don’t force your body to do something it isn’t trained or prepared to do, trying to force flexibility will only lead to pain and injury.
- Stretch all muscle groups. Stretching all muscle groups will help prevent muscle imbalances. In a 2004 study sponsored by the American college of Sports Medicine entitled The Impact of Stretching on Sports Injury Risk , researchers found that muscle imbalances are one of the major causes of pain and injury related to improper stretching.
As an example, strong, flexible quadriceps and tight, weak hamstrings wreak havoc with pelvic tilt causing lower back pain and dysfunction in the athlete. “The evidence clearly demonstrates that stretching all muscle groups that are important to athletic performance will increase muscle and joint flexibility.”
- Use a foam roller as part of your stretching routine. A foam roller promotes Self-Myofascial Release by breaking up adhesions (called trigger points) and scar tissue and helping to speed up the healing and recovery process after your athletic training.