Health & Beauty | 17 July 20156 Rules for Safe and Effective Stretching Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Stretching is a great way to get your muscles ready for a workout and improve flexibility. However, as easy as it may seem, it’s not always done correctly. Healthy Running Step By Step gives you six rules to get the most out of your stretches. To stretch is to de-stress, so savor it. A good stretch is long, slow, and relaxed. Stretching is not something you rush through. It’s a time to relax, prepare your body, and focus on the workout to come. Practice diaphragmatic breathing and stretch before all workouts and at night. Here are the basics. 1. Stretch in a relaxed position. Stretching is an act of relaxation, so don’t force it. The muscle fibers must be relaxed for the stretch to effectively target the connective tissue elements in and around them. Accordingly, use stretching postures that promote relaxation and protect all the surrounding joints, especially those of the spine. Don’t stretch leg and hip muscles under load—for example, in standing positions that force you to brace yourself, such as bending over and touching your toes or reaching back and grabbing your ankle. Instead, lie on the ground in positions that allow for muscle relaxation and easy breathing. For the upper body, the limb must be relaxed in a cradled or supported posture. Hit each of the major muscle groups while they are relaxed—not stressed. 2. Use the subsiding tension principle. Muscles should be stretched slowly. Allow the stretch sensation to register in the brain and then modulate it by going deeper into the stretch or letting up based on that sensation. If the tension in the muscle increases while holding a position, then let up a bit. If the tension decreases, then move deeper into the stretch. Deep belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, described on page 117, will further relax the muscle. Yoga focuses on deep breathing for good reason—it relaxes the entire body. 3. Use static stretching. Dynamic movements mesh well with static stretching, but don’t replace it. Although a few recent ill-designed studies found that static stretching reduced immediate power and strength output, decades of research shows that collagen lengthens best under long, sustained stretching and that a static stretch results in the most permanent elongation of the tissue. Stretching before workouts or competition allows athletes to execute the correct biomechanics of their sport. Indeed, my athletes set world records and won gold medals immediately following static stretching. 4. Stretch before all workouts and races. The most misinformed view of stretching I’ve heard is that it is dangerous to stretch the body when it’s cold. Shy of death, our bodies are never cold! Though collagen tissue stretches better when it’s warmed up, it also stretches just fine at the normal resting body temperature. To bear this out, just look at dancers; ballerinas don’t go into the dance studio and run around to break a sweat before they stretch. They start the class at the stretch bar—and they aren’t alone. Yogis, martial artists, and gymnasts, all with renowned levels of flexibility, first stretch, then warm up, and then stretch some more. As long as the stretching positions are safe and follow the subsiding tension principle, then stretching before workouts and competition is safe and effective to increase performance and help avoid injury. Bottom line: There is no excuse for not stretching before a workout. In fact, we say that if you don’t have time to stretch, you don’t have time to work out! 5. Stretch after workouts. Post-workout, the muscles are “pumped”—i.e., left in a shortened state with the blood vessels in and around the muscle laden with waste products such as lactic acid. Stretching returns the muscles to their normal resting length and promotes recovery by “wringing” the waste products out of the muscle as it pulls the connective tissue taut and staves off the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). As a result, you recover quicker and begin working out again sooner and stronger. This prevents you from decreasing your flexibility as a result of training. 6. Stretch at night. The quick 5- to 10-second stretches that you do before and after your workouts are designed to “release” your muscles to their normal resting length and maintain your flexibility. If you want or need to increase your flexibility, you must hold the stretches longer. Doing them later at night when your muscles and tendons are looser from the day’s activity will create a more permanent elongation of the connective tissue and relax you for a better night’s rest. In summary, stretching is a crucial part of your workout plan. Done before and after you work out, and safe when done “cold,” stretching prevents injury, loosens up problem tight areas before injuries occur, gives you the flexibility to run with proper biomechanics and technique, and serves as a mental and physical warm-up routine before exercise. Given that it feels good, is free, fixes your posture, and makes you look better in a business suit or running shoes, it’s not smart to go without it. — Buy from an Online Retailer In North America: In The UK: Healthy Running Step by Step will help runners of all ages and abilities understand why running injuries occur, how to prevent them, and how to speed up recovery. Injuries plague the majority of runners, wrecking training plans and cutting running careers short by decades, but they are not inevitable. Authors Robert Forster, P.T., and Roy M. Wallack explain that nearly all running injuries can be rehabilitated quicker and even avoided altogether with the right training, strengthening, stretching, running form, and diet strategy. Drawing from Forster’s three decades of training and treating Olympic athletes and more than 10,000 runners at his award-winning Santa Monica, California, physical therapy and high-performance centers, this book emphasizes that better performance is inextricably bound to injury reduction and that a comprehensive, science-based training plan with built-in anti-injury “insurance” must include these crucial elements: Periodization training Proper technique and footwear Nutrition Posture and flexibility Strength training This book also includes detailed, step-by-step rehabilitation matrixes for the five most common running injuries: IT band syndrome, Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and hamstring injuries. Using these unique matrixes as your guide, you’ll recover from injuries more quickly and understand what you need to do to prevent their reoccurrence. Healthy Running Step by Step is a must-have guide if you’ve ever been injured, are recovering from an injury, want to prevent injuries, or run injury-free for decades to come. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.