To stretch or not to stretch? That is the question many runners ask themselves.
Some runners avoid stretching because they heard it can lead to injury. Others don’t see the point and would rather not waste their time with it. But then there are the people who practice yoga on a regular basis and a large part of practicing yoga is stretching.
So, who is right?
Is stretching good or bad for you? Is it necessary?
Stretching: a good idea
According to the American Council on Exercise and guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine, stretching is a must because it keeps our bodies limber.
Flexibility training can also:
- Increase muscular strength
- Alleviate muscle soreness
- Lower the risk of injury
- Promote relaxation and relieve stress
- Help circulation
- Improve posture
- Maintain joint range of motion
Stretching sometimes gets a bad rap because if you hold a stretch too long or stretch before warming up, you could pull a muscle. Also, some studies show stretching before activity can hinder athletic performance. However, as long as you stretch properly, the health benefits of stretching usually outweigh the risks.
Stretching: the dos and don’ts
When it comes to stretching, do:
- Commit to it. Experts suggest that adults stretch at least two or three days per week. Spend a few minutes stretching after each run or take a yoga class a couple of times per week to help make stretching a habit.
- Ease into a stretch. Gradually ease into a deep stretch. Going deeper into a stretch at a slow pace will lower your chance of injury.
- Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Then repeat the stretch one or two more times.
- Have patience. Some people are naturally flexible, and flexibility declines with age. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not as flexible as others – or even as flexible as you once were. With time and practice, your flexibility will improve.
- Take stretch breaks throughout the day. There’s a reason why we automatically stretch when we wake up in the morning: it feels good and our bodies need if after lying down all night. Likewise, if you sit at a desk all day, regular stretching breaks are good for your body. After sitting for an hour, take a couple of minute to reverse your desk posture. Bend down at your waist and reach for your toes and slowly roll your way back up to standing.
- Don’t stretch without warming up first. Unless you’re just doing light stretches, like the desk example, it’s important to warm-up before stretching. Stretching “cold” muscles could lead to injury, so walk or run for a few minutes before you stretch. Better yet, save stretching for the end of your run. Stretching for just five minutes post-workout can help prevent muscle soreness later on.
- Don’t hold your breath while stretching. Just breathe like you normally do.
- Don’t stretch to the point of pain. Stretching shouldn’t be comfortable, but it shouldn’t feel painful either. Back off the stretch if it hurts.
- Don’t bounce. Bouncing during a stretch isn’t as effective as holding it, plus it can up the risk of injury.
Written by Jen Matz.