Ironic as it may seem, orthopedic waiting rooms today are overflowing with athletes and bodybuilders. Their common complaint being bone and joint pains and sprains, which, as you might have guessed, are usually traced back to poor exercising. People are either overworking their bodies, or simply not doing it the right way.
There is yet another often overlooked cause — lack of proper stretching. The key term here is ‘proper’, meaning that there is a right and wrong way to stretch. If done correctly, stretching can significantly reduce the risk of damage to your joints and tendons, ultimately guaranteeing your well-being. Whether you are playing sports or performing a labor-intensive job, here are a few tips and suggestions on how you can stretch properly beforehand.
As most gym enthusiasts, coaches, and athletes would tell you, stretching is a crucial part of your exercise routine. Other than merely increasing your flexibility, it can go a long way in relaxing your muscle tension, thus reducing risk of injury to your joints. Other benefits you stand to gain include:
- Increased physical fitness
- Reduces the risk of injury to your muscles, joints and tendons
- An enhanced ability to perform or learn a skilled movement
- Increased body awareness
- Physical and mental relaxation
- Reduces soreness of your muscles before and after workout
- Reduces muscular tension
- Helps heal from back pain
- In females, it can reduce severity of pain due to menstruation.
Common Mistakes during Stretching
Unfortunately, stretching does not always guarantee the results you’ve seen above. This is mostly attributable due to insufficient stretching, which you should avoid. They include:
- Inadequate warm-up
- Lack of rest in between workouts
- Doing the wrong stretches and or doing your exercises the wrong way (wrong sequence).
- Repeating the same stretch over and over — instead you want to include different approaches for more comprehensive flexibility training.
- Stretching too hard — don’t push beyond what is comfortable, but rather, just until when you can feel tension in your muscles.
- Stretching after an injury — wait at least 2 weeks then ease into it.
- Not holding the stretch long enough — should be at least 30-60 seconds.
Tips and Suggestions for Stretching
Now that you know what not to do, here are a few things that you can do to ensure you’ll be warmed up before your training, practice, or work-related project.
- Duration of the stretch – This refers to the amount of time you should hold a stretch. According to experts, the ideal duration is about 30-60 seconds. However, this can be less (about 10 seconds) for children, whose bones are still growing.
- Make sure to breathe – As with every other exercise regimen, breathing control is vital to maintain your drive. It helps your body relax, while increasing the flow of blood through the body. Breathing also removes lactic acid building up, among other toxins generated during the workout. While breathing, you want to take slow, relaxed breaths as you stretch. Try and do the exhalation as the muscle stretches and then as you breathe, inhale through your nose, hold the breath then exhale through your mouth.
- Exercise order – Most people don’t know that the particular order in which you do your stretches is just as important as the stretch. You see, each individual stretch targets a particular group of muscles. Therefore, the ideal move would be to do a stretch, which isolates a certain muscle group, according to the particular workout you’ll be performing.
It is advisable to organize your stretching exercises according to a certain routine in order to reduce the actual effort used, while maximizing on effectiveness. Below are the most basic sequences people use:
- Start by stretching your back (both upper and lower).
- Then stretch your sides.
- Before stretching your hamstrings or groin, stretch your buttocks.
- Before hamstrings, stretch your calves.
- Before your quadriceps, stretch your shins.
- Before stretching your chest, stretch your arms.
- When to stretch – Stretches are most effective when muscles are all warmed up. Therefore, before anything, you can start by warming them up through aerobic activities. After you have completed your workout, stretch again, but not as long as before, to cool down and ensure muscles, ligaments, joints, and tendons, don’t stiffen. Also take note of the weather. If it’s too cold, you might end up feeling a bit stiff, and if too warm, your stretches won’t have to be as long. The more you stretch and at the right times is crucial to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself properly so as not to cause injuries.
As you’ve seen, there are no limits to the number of benefits you can gain from a proper stretch and no one better understands this than the orthopedic surgeons at Missouri Orthopedics and Advanced Sports Medicine. With years of experience, we strive to help athletes make a speedy and full recovery after any orthopedic injury. If you, or someone you know, experience any pain or major discomfort during or after exercising, contact us to schedule an appointment today and we’ll get you back into tip-top shape so you can work out and play at your ultimate best!