A Stretch In Time
Several benefits await everyone who takes ten minutes or less to loosen and relax their muscles
With the schedules most people have to keep today, making time to exercise is an achievement. Adding five to ten minutes to that program may seem like a bit of a stretch.
But a stretch is what it’s all about.
“Stretching after a workout is a great way to relax your body and cool down,” says Michael Mahnken, an exercise physiologist in the St. Joseph’s/Candler Wellness Center. “Even if you are just walking, your muscles can still get tight. Stretching is important for everybody.”
Don’t exercise? You should probably reconsider, but we’ll let that slide for now to let you know that stretching can even benefit sedentary people.
Getting a stretch in every day can improve:
- Range of motion
- Blood flow
- Back pain prevention
- Stress relief
That last one demonstrates the mental benefits that proper stretching can have. Muscles tend to tighten when you are stressed out, and inversely, a good stretch can alleviate the emotional stress that a person is feeling. The focus used in stretching properly can help calm the mind as well.
“Lengthening and relaxing the muscles relieves tension,” Mahnken says. “Stretching on your own or partaking in a stretching-based activity, such as a yoga class, is an effective strategy to help with stress relief.”
Dynamic and Static/Before and After
The two most common types of stretching are called dynamic and static, and each type has its place in an exercise routine.
Dynamic stretches are short, active movements where a muscle moves through an entire range of motion and isn’t held in the end position. Leg swings, knee highs, and torso twists are a few examples of dynamic stretches. You do these before you work out as a warm-up.
“You don’t necessarily have to stretch before a workout,” Mahnken says. “It is not proven to prevent injury or curb soreness. However, dynamic stretching can help loosen the muscles and increase your heart rate and blood flow, preparing your body for the activity ahead.”
Static stretching involves stretching a muscle to the full extent of your ability and holding it in the end position for 15 to 30 seconds. Because muscles tighten during a workout, static stretching is most beneficial after you exercise.
“This can help relax the muscles as well as slowing your heartbeat and breathing,” Mahnken says. “Everyone should stretch after workout, regardless of how intense it may or may not be, or how novice or experienced you are to exercising.”
Mahnken says that the number of stretches and amount of time spent stretching can be a judgment call.
“If possible, try to reflect your workout,” he says. “If it’s arm day in the gym, for example, focus on stretching your arms, back and chest.”
For the hour-long Circuit Training class that he teaches at the Wellness Center, Mahnken begins with a 15-minute warm-up that includes dynamic stretching and a 10-minute cool down with static stretches. He will focus on the hip flexors, buttocks, hamstrings, and quadriceps—the muscle groups that are worked and tightened during the class.
A Gentle Pull
Even though you will feel tension in the muscle during a stretch, it shouldn’t cause discomfort.
“Both types of stretches should feel like a gentle pull on your muscles and never be painful,” Mahnken says.
If you are new to stretching or to regular exercise, ease into your new routine and talk with your doctor if you experience pain. A beginner’s exercise class or personal training session with a certified exercise physiologist such as Mahnken can be a great place to learn the basics of stretching. But even those who are more experienced need to make time for this highly beneficial step.
“Someone who is a little more active is probably looser in general, but their muscles are still going to get tight,” Mahnken says. “Stretching daily or at least several times a week is a great way for all of us to gain flexibility, relieve stress, improve our posture and reduce back pain, especially as we age.”
Watch a video with Exercise Physiologist Michael Mahnken demonstrating a few simple stretches that you can do right in your office or home at www.sjchs.org/stretchvideo.