It is no secret that stretching your body is really important, especially if you exercise regularly. Stretching helps to prepare the body for exercise and can help prevent muscle stiffness and injuries from exercising. But the list of benefits is longer than that – stretching can improve your overall wellbeing.
Perhaps what fewer people know is that there are 2 types of stretching – static and dynamic, and each has its own benefits and are suited to different situations.
The General Benefits of Stretching
Without stretching, muscles can become shorter and tighter, and this can contribute to overuse injuries and make your movements more challenging as your muscles lack the range of motion you need. Recovery after exercise will also be more difficult as lactic acid builds up in muscles, causing soreness.
If you include regular stretching into your routine, whether you exercise or play sport or not, you will benefit from the following:
- Improvement in your overall flexibility and range of motion.
- Improvement in your posture – this is particularly helpful if you have a rather sedentary lifestyle or sit at a desk all day.
- Helps get your body ready for playing sports or hitting the gym (dynamic stretching) and improving your performance.
- Reducing your susceptibility to injuries.
- A reduction in stress by promoting relaxation.
- An increase in blood flow and improvement in circulation.
- A decrease in lactic acid in your muscles.
These are some pretty good reasons to get stretching, so let’s look at the different types of stretches, what they are and how they will benefit you.
What is Static Stretching?
Static stretching is any type of stretch where you stretch the muscle as far as it can go and hold it, usually for 15-60 seconds. They can be performed standing, sitting or lying down. This type of stretch is smooth and gentle, without any bouncing motions.
Some examples of static stretching:
- Touching your toes and holding.
- Holding one arm across your chest, using the other arm to hold the stretch.
- Overhead tricep stretch, raising your arm up to the ceiling then bending the elbow so your palm reaches down to the centre of your back. Hold with the other arm.
- Side lunge stretches, lunging to one side and holding.
- Quad stretches, bending your knee and holding your foot to the back to stretch the front of your thigh.
- Cobra pose, lying on your stomach and raising your torso up on your hands and straightening your arms.
When to do Static Stretching
It appears to be a common misconception that static stretching is beneficial prior to exercise. However, static stretching is most helpful for increasing your flexibility and range of motion and is not recommended before exercise, particularly strength or sprinting exercises.
Doing static stretches before exercise has been shown to actually decrease your speed and strength and may therefore have a negative impact on your performance. Also, it may result in injury.
So instead, focus on static stretching after your workouts as they will help you loosen up and prevent stiffness and injuries. As mentioned, static stretching can assist with relaxation so doing them at the end of your day will lower your tension and stress levels.
What is Dynamic Stretching?
Dynamic stretching is when your joints move through their full range of motion, in a controlled manner. For example, it can be a version of the sporting activity you’re about to do. Don’t force the movements – keep them in the range they feel comfortable in.
Some examples of dynamic stretching:
- Walking lunges.
- Arm swings to target the shoulders – both forwards and backwards.
- Backpedal jogging (a controlled jog backwards).
- Plank walk out – starting from standing, put your hands on the ground and walk them out until you are in a plank position, then walk them back so you are standing again.
- Hurdle steps – walking and stepping over an imaginary hurdle – both forwards and backwards.
- High knee lifts while jogging on the spot.
When to do Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretches are ideal during a warmup to physical activity as they get your muscles ready for the exercise you’re about to do. They can improve your power, speed and jump height. These stretches are also good to do in the morning after waking as they are gentle and are a good way to get your body moving for the day.
The bottom line is that both types of stretches are great for you, and used appropriately should definitely feature in your exercise regime – dynamic stretches in your warmup and static stretches in your cool down.
Incorporate stretching into your daily life by scheduling a few minutes in the morning and evening, as well as before and after exercise. Including family or friends can make it more enjoyable. Even on your exercise rest days, do a combination of dynamic stretches, followed by static stretches to keep you flexible and moving well.
A sports physiotherapist can tailor a stretching program to your needs and the professionals at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy are available to provide both static and dynamic stretches for you. They can also help you fix ongoing niggles and aches through deep tissue massage, physiotherapy for back pain, soft tissue therapy, or post op physiotherapy.
Stretching will keep you mobile and help with movement as you age, so incorporate it into your life and benefit during the years to come. Give the Melbourne Sports Physio team a call today or book an appointment online.