You’ve probably had a physical education teacher, coach or trainer tell you stretching is important. But why, exactly? Is it really a big deal if you’re not that flexible?
Flexibility isn’t simply nice to have. It’s crucial to our strength and health. Rick Wade, a Banner athletic trainer, said, “Stretching keeps your muscles flexible, strong and healthy, which helps you maintain range of motion in the joints. Without adequate flexibility, your muscles become short and tight, leading to muscle weakness, limited joint motion and poor function.”
There are two different types of stretches that can help you build and maintain flexibility—static stretches and dynamic stretches.
Static stretches are probably the stretches that come to mind when you think about stretching. That’s when you stretch a muscle or a group of muscles to the point where you feel tension, and then you hold that position for 20 to 60 seconds. You might rest and then repeat the stretch two or three times.
When you pull your heel toward your buttocks and hold it there to stretch your quadriceps, that’s a static stretch.
The benefits of static stretching. “Static stretching is slow, controlled and safe to perform,” Wade said. You can take short breaks at home, work or school throughout the day to fit in some static stretching.
If you practice static stretching regularly, you can maintain or increase your flexibility and help prevent injuries that are linked to having a limited range of motion. Static stretching can also help your muscles recover more quickly after exercise and can help decrease muscle pain and stiffness. “Static stretches are a good option if you don’t get much activity or you’re sedentary,” Wade said.
The risks of static stretching. In a static stretch, you can slowly and gradually add tension without injuring yourself. Just don’t push past the point of tension and into pain. Overdoing it can cause pain or soreness that lingers after you’re done stretching, and it isn’t as effective in preparing you for exercise.
Dynamic stretches are stretches that include movement through larger ranges of motion. They are usually paired with your sport or activity, so as you stretch you use your muscles the way you do in your game or workout.
“These whole-body movements actively take your joints through their full range of motion and then back to the starting position. You don’t hold the movement at its endpoint,” Wade said. It’s great for increasing the flexibility you need for your activity.
When you jog and kick your buttocks with each heel 10 times, that’s a dynamic stretch.
The benefits of dynamic stretching. “Dynamic stretching requires more thoughtful coordination of your movements, and it has gained popularity with athletes and coaches as the pre-exercise warmup of choice,” Wade said.
Athletes like it because it uses faster, sport-specific movements. These movements increase the blood flow to muscles, bring up body temperature, and stimulate the muscle and nerves activated in workouts. These factors mean dynamic stretching can increase physical performance in practices, games or weightlifting sessions.
The risks of dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching is a better choice for people who are in good shape. “It’s not recommended for people who are injured, in the early stages of recovery from an injury, surgery or are sedentary, or who have physical limitations to intense exercise,” Wade said.
The bottom line
Stretching is important for improving your flexibility and strength. Static stretching, dynamic stretching or a combination might be the best choice for you, depending on your needs, goals and fitness.
To learn more about healthy exercising, check out these articles:
- How to Do Workout Rest Days Right
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- Ice Baths: Are They Worth It?