Do you rush through your warm-up / cool down so you get more time for the ‘fun’ stuff?
Are you unsure if you’re stretching effectively?
Are you experiencing a plateau in your progression in the gym or in your sport?
Do you think stretching is just for yogis & gymnasts?
Let’s get you confident with, how, why and when, and bust some myths you’ve probably heard about stretching. It’s one of the most under researched areas of exercise yet arguably one of the most important components, as more and more people are realising how much it aids their performance and overall well-being.
Why should I stretch?
- To prepare your body for exercise
- To recover from exercising
- To prevent injury
- To improve posture
- To balance out imbalances from repetitive movement in day to day living, work, driving or sport
When should I stretch?
- Pre & post workout
- To break up repetitive movement (or no movement) e.g. sitting at a computer, taking breaks from long driving stints to move etc.
- Morning vs evening: they both have benefits, but test out what suits your body with your routine. Typically we are usually more mobile later in the day
Now we know why we stretch. Hopefully you can see the purpose to your stretches might differ, so if you’re stretching around your workout it will be specific to when that workout takes place. We should sneak in movement / mobility throughout the day for balance and to prevent bad habits. Breaking up your working day etc.
How long should I stretch?
This is a tricky one to answer for everyone, it’s specific to each individual and what you’re trying to achieve. As a basic rule treat each individual stretch as a 1 min 30 second stretch, every 30 seconds changing the movement slightly. As far as the whole session, if you are just stretching anywhere from 15-60 mins depending on your goals. If you’re doing a 1 hour workout for example, as a minimum I would suggest a 5 minute mobility warm-up and a 10 minute cool down.
How should I stretch?
Think of stretching like a pairing. If you’re stretching your hamstring (back of your thigh), you should be engaging your quad (front of your thigh). Whichever muscle we stretch we want the opposite muscle to be lightly squeezed to keep us safe and supported.
Vary between the following 3 types of stretching starting with:
Mobility: working your body through the full range of movement without assistance. Consider the movements you will perform in your workout for example with weights, to mobilise and move your body through the range of movement without the weight.
Then mix together both active and passive:
Active stretching: the ability to hold the stretch without support from yourself or the ground. For example stretching your hamstring sitting on the floor is passive, to stretch actively standing or seated, raise your leg straight with the strength from your core and quad. We can actively stretch all body parts like this.
Passive stretching: holding the stretch using your body weight for example sitting legs out straight and reaching towards your toes.
Should it be painful when I stretch?
No. Pain / feeling sick / dizzying are all warning signs. Pain that makes you tense up or shake is a sign you’re pushing too far and you won’t see the benefits of stretching. You should always be able to breathe and control your movement. Sickness or dizziness is a sign you should get checked by a physio.
How long does it take to get flexible?
‘Get your splits in 30 days!’ This is the equivalent to a nutritionist hearing about fad diets. Try to change your mindset to see stretching as a habit to fit into your day to day life. That way your progress will happen safely and remain in place. Fluctuation in progress is part of the process and will vary depending on lots of factors, training, stress, diet, time etc. don’t forget rest periods and variety is key to your progress too.
What’s best to do if I don’t have a lot of time?
Mobility is the shortest and most effective answer. Do try to schedule stretching into your regular workouts in an appropriate ratio.
Now whilst you might think a stretch instructor could be biased and wants everyone to stretch, I can promise you there isn’t a human out there who doesn’t need a stretch routine in their life. I’ve coached people through their stretching from all abilities and many sporting backgrounds. Usually people won’t consider the importance of stretching until they’re injured, but the best thing we can do is get in there before that happens.
Fear not, if you’re coming back from injury or starting fresh let’s make stretching a habit and not a chore. Hopefully I’ve answered some of your questions and given you the confidence to get started. There’s no need to wait!