Fit and Fun
Tips For Better Stretching
I was hanging out with my friend John the other day, and he was telling me about what’s been going on at his gym. He tells me, “Igor, I’m at the gym, and I thought to myself, why am I the only one here stretching? Am I missing something? Isn’t stretching good for me?”
He says that at a gym full of people, everyone was lifting weights or doing cardio. In the more than the hour he was at the gym, no one was stretching but him. He actually says that most days at the gym, he’s the only person stretching. I said to John, “Maybe they don’t need to be stretching, and maybe they do. Maybe you don’t need to be stretching, and maybe you do.”
Are you the lone wolf stretching during your workout? Or, maybe you are the one not stretching at all. Perhaps you’re not stretching out of fear of doing it wrong, or you just think stretching exercises are boring. Or, maybe you shouldn’t be stretching.
In this article I’m going to help you out, and give you my stretching tips on how to properly stretch, or whether you shouldn’t stretch in the first place. Because believe me, you definitely want to avoid unnecessary injuries.
In this article, I will tell you:
- How long should you stretch
- The best time to stretch
- When you should and shouldn’t stretch
- What is too much stretching, and…
- Why you stretch in the first place
So, let’s get stretching…
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STRETCH?
For some people, it’s 15 seconds. For others, it’s 30. Another friend of mine likes to stretch for two minutes on each side of the body. While I sometimes see others stretch for 15 minutes or more. Wow, that’s a lot of time, isn’t it?
The truth is that blocking off a particular amount of time for stretching is a little unwise. Why is that? Well, simply put, different people need a different amount of time to get “stretched out.” Basically, we’re not all the same, and therefore the amount of time you stretch should be tailored specifically to you. And, like with other types of exercises, like with endurance or strength training, your stretching will also be individualized.
So, considering all that, how long should you stretch?
To answer that, I’m going to seek some guidance from Pavel Tsatsouline. He wrote the book on stretching. No, seriously he did. A couple of them—Relax Into Stretch, and Super Joints. I also heard him speak about the subject on Tim Ferriss’s podcast, where you can listen for yourself, here.
But, since you’re here, I’ll do my best to summarize it for you.
Basically, when you stretch a muscle, it’s really about what’s happening with the nervous system. It’s really the nervous system that controls muscle length. Do you ever notice that when you begin in a stretching position, you feel the stretch? However, after holding it for a certain time frame, that stretching sensation goes away.
When you do this, did your muscle get longer? No, it didn’t. But, what did happen is your nervous system relaxed. You see, within your muscles, you have a neurological reflex called the “stretch reflex.” It protects you from “unfamiliar territory.”
What is unfamiliar territory? This is what is known as, “unusual ranges of motion.”
For instance, if you tried to do the splits, and have never done them before, you will feel a very big pull in your inner thigh muscles. It will be uncomfortable enough to where you will want to bring your legs back to a comfortable position. However, if you only go to the point of “mild discomfort” (maybe a 3 or 4 on a scale of 0-10) and hold it for a while, then that stretching sensation will disappear. As a result, that sensation will drop from a 3 or 4, to a 1 or 0.
This then calms down your nervous system, and leads to greater availability of your range of motion!
So, again, to answer the question, “How long should you hold a stretch?” Until you no longer feel the stretch!
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO STRETCH?
You would think it’s a simple one-sentence answer, but it’s not. The best time to stretch really depends on a variety of factors. The first is the type of stretch—static and dynamic.
Static stretching is when you are holding a position. For instance, before a runner goes for a run, they’ll hold their leg or heel on a chair, stairs, or sort type of platform.
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, isn’t about holding a stretch, but rather about taking the body through ranges of motion that prepare you for a workout or sport. For example, dancers and sprinters will swing their leg to stretch their hamstrings.
The second factor is a person’s muscular length. In other words, if someone’s muscles are short, they should be doing static stretching before and after exercise, and also outside of exercise. However, if a person’s muscles are not short, there is no reason to stretch at all.
As a general rule, dynamic stretching should be done before strength training, and static stretching should be done after strength training. Static stretching is only beneficial when your muscles are short. If your muscles are too long, then static stretching will temporarily make you weaker for 40 to 60 minutes. But again, this is all general, and there are exceptions to these rules.
WHEN YOU SHOULD BE STRETCHING…AND WHEN YOU SHOULDN’T
About the Author
Igor Klibanov is the author of 7 books on exercise and nutrition, and the CEO and founder of Fitness Solutions Plus. He is a sought-after wellness speaker, having delivered over 400 presentations to some of Canada's largest corporations. Get a free PDF version of his book, STOP EXERCISING! The Way You Are Doing it Now - http://www.fitnesssolutionsplus.ca/stopexercising