Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Can Stretching Do for Me?

We’ve all heard it, “Stretching improves flexibility”, but why do I need to be flexible? Being flexible won’t make me stronger, faster, or lose weight, so why should I do it? There are various benefits to stretching that are complementary to any exercise program. Unfortunately, this is an area that is often overlooked and skipped in most work out routines. Stretching allows for a greater range of motion (ROM). Flexibility is an indicator of areas that are tight, limiting the range of motion at a particular joint or joints (Bryant & Green, 2010). When ROM is limited, one cannot fully extend to their full potential. This can be a risk for injury because you may be in a situation where you stretch beyond what you are capable of and possibly pull a muscle. For example, when attempting to reach for something that is beyond your range of flexibility, you may end up compromising that particular muscle and injure it instead. This is seen in various exercises and sports such  as soccer, football, and basketball. A common area that is pulled in these sports is the groin and thigh muscles. Conditioning these muscles and making them more flexible will make them less prone to future injury. Not only does stretching benefit exercise, but it will also allow you to go through daily functioning with greater ease. Whether it is bending over, pulling a door open, or even reaching something off of a high shelf, improved flexibility will make all of these motions effortless.
There are various types of stretching that include: static, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, and dynamic. 

1. Static stretching is holding any stretch at the greatest point of tension for anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds (ACSM, 2010). Since this kind of stretching is held in longer bouts, it should be done after a normal exercise routine when the muscles are warm to avoid injury. 
2. Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is the combination of holding a stretch for about 10 to 30 seconds and relaxing the stretch for 6 seconds and continuing to alternate this cycle (ACSM, 2010).
3. Dynamic stretching, also known as ballistic stretching, is short repetitive stretches only lasting for a couple of seconds (ACSM, 2010). This is usually done before a work out to help warm up the muscles while also stretching them out. This type of stretching before exercise carries less risk than static stretching because you are not holding a “cold muscle” in a deep stretch for an extended amount of time.  

Finally, stretching is also a relaxing exercise that gives you time during your day to unwind and focus on yourself. It is calming, feels amazing, and just does your body all kinds of good. Enjoy stretching because it is like a treat for your muscles.

Here are some stretches to try:

Quadricep Stretch 

Begin with standing on one leg, and then reach with one or both hands to grab hold of the other leg, bending it as close to your body and towards the Glutes as possible. Hold this stretch for about 10 to 30 seconds then alternate to the other leg. Remember to keep a good posture while holding this stretch. You may choose to place one hand on a wall or piece of furniture to help keep balance.

Hamstring Stretch

Stand with one leg in front of the other and bend the back most leg while keeping the front leg straight. Shift your body weight towards the bent knee and tilt your hips forward and Glutes backwards, while maintaining a flat back. Place your hands on your thighs for support. Hold this stretch for about 10 to 30 seconds then alternate to the other leg.

Calf Stretch

Begin facing a wall, standing a couple feet away from it, then place one leg in front of the other maintaining a flat back on both feet flat on the floor. Lean forward and press your hands on the wall bending the front leg and keeping your back leg straight. You should feel a nice stretch in the calf of the straight leg. The farther you position yourself away from the wall, the deeper the stretch becomes. Hold this stretch for about 10 to 30 seconds then alternate to the other leg.

Neck Stretch

Begin by sitting or standing on the floor, either way is perfectly fine. Then slowly start to pull your neck towards the left shoulder and extend the opposite arm downwards. You should feel a deep stretch on the right side of the neck. Hold this stretch for about 10 to 30 seconds then alternate to the other side.

Low Back Stretch

Child’s Pose. Lie face down on the floor and bend the knees and hips toward the back of the room. Stretch your arms out straight above the head keep the palms of your hands and forehead flat on the floor. You should feel nice and relaxed in this pose with a stretch in the low back muscles. Hold this stretch for about 10 to 30 seconds.

Arm/ Shoulder Stretch

Extend one arm straight across the body while using the other to hold it in place and create a deeper stretch. Hold this stretch for about 10 to 30 seconds and then alternate to the other arm.

Kimi Ma


Bryant, C., & Green, D. (2010). ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals (4th Edition). San Deigo: American Council on Exercise

American College of Sports Medicine (2010). ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (8th Edition). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Wiliams & Wilkins

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