Stretching | The Importance + How + Why
In most of our lives, including stretching in our day to day goes to the extent of the few seconds we reach out as we wake up, the couple bends and pulls before/after a workout, and the occasional extension when we have a sore neck or back. The reason our body involuntarily stretches in these moments is because it needs it, firstly to be able to function, and definitely when it is in pain. After all, our body and our movements are made up of our muscles, and they need to be healthy.
Tami Kooner of Stretch Studios in Dubai and Katherine Kitfield, a fitness professional at StretchIt, the app, and Power Monkey Fitness, break it down for us, walking us through the benefits, why it is essential, what to know as we stretch, and the difference between assisted stretching and regular, independent, stretches.
How is stretching beneficial for your muscles?
Tami highlights “stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong and healthy.
Shortened muscles become tight and this puts you in a risk for joint pain, muscle damage and strains. Regular stretching keeps the muscles long, lean and flexible which means that the muscles will be able to work efficiently.
Healthy muscles also help with proper body balance [aka] proprioception which makes persons with balance problems avoid falling.”
How important is stretching for every day health and movement?
Improving and increasing your blood circulation.
Increasing your flexibility - a flexible body is strong, as with greater flexibility you have wider range of motion.
Preventing injuries - as mentioned above lack of flexibility can cause other muscle groups overcompensate, leading to imbalances in the body and/or injury.
Increased relaxation / relieving stress / boost to your energy levels (also as a result of increased circulation)
Reduce muscle tension
Improving coordination and balance - being flexible also means maintaining good form while working out (e.g. positions like squats, with your ankle and hip mobility]
Comparisons + Differences
stretching for every day + after a workout?
Tami highlights that “daily stretching focusses on generally improving your daily movements while stretching after a workout will focus on stretching specific muscles and joints which were used in the workout to reduce the chance of soreness after working out … as it helps the fatigued muscles recover faster due to the increase in blood circulation and muscle lengthening”.
Assisted stretching + stretching at home / good yoga flow?
“In assisted stretching (also known as passive stretching) there is an external force being provided. You are being stretched instead of actively stretching. Passive stretching is accomplished by a Flexologist taking you through stretches, using stretching accessories and/or just using gravity to assist your stretch” explains Tami. Katherine highlights that “Assisted stretching can be a great way to work on your mobility and flexibility with the support of a a knowledgable trainer” and also “includes PNF or isometric stretching, where you are engaging/resisting and then relaxing, using your breath to let your body ease into a new range of motion”. Katherine advices having the specialist explain you how to carry on the stretches at home as it’s “personalized advice on what movements would be beneficial for your body”. In the end, this is a one-on-one and will be specific to your body and lifestyle needs!
“In home stretching or yoga (active stretching),” Tami says “there is no external force being provided. You are actively moving one muscle group to stretch another.”
How often, if stretching is maintained, is assisted stretching advised to do?
Assisted stretching is individual based, there is no standard baseline since individuals are different in terms of levels of flexibility, physical activity participation and psychological factors,” Tami reminds us, “after the first session a stretching practitioner will assess your flexibility and with your flexibility goals advise you on how often you should stretch, the duration of the stretches and when to stretch”.
Generally speaking, you want to maintain stretching through out the week and get assisted stretches done at some point at get assessed from there, if you have certain aches, or difficulties, then go in for an assisted stretch and assessment sooner than later.
before a workout + after a workout
Pre and post workout stretches are different, Tami highlights:
Before a workout: the stretches aim at aiding in warming
After a workout: the stretches aim at helping cool down the body
Katherine highlights that “You never want to stretch deeply before an intense workout. Light warm up stretches to mobilize the body and increase blood flow are helpful, but save your deep stretching for after your workout.”
How much stretching do you need for optimal body function?
“This depends on your base level of flexibility”, says Tami. “Less flexible individuals will have to do more stretches compared to flexible individuals to achieve optimal body functions.”
Consistent stretching, gradual progression and function specific stretches are to be considered for optimal body function. The human body structure and function varies from a person to the other. This leads to stretching your body according to your functional needs. One must stretch consistently gradually increasing the complexity of the stretches and use relevant stretches to achieve optimal body functions. Gradual progression is the art of increasing the stretches difficulty to achieve more flexibility.
how long to hold a stretch for, how many reps?
First let’s separate the two kinds of stretches. There are stretches you do, while moving, these are dynamic or active stretches. Static stretches are more passive and require staying in the position without movement, and using gravity to help the stretch.
Dynamic stretches are advised:
Before a workout
10 - 30 sec hold
Katherine also advices alternative static and dynamic stretches, and that the older generation (65 and above) require [generally] longer stretches.
things to keep in mind when stretching
“You want to be building stability at the end range of your motion, so engage your muscle, use your breath, and support your body through your core to stretch safely and progressively.” According to studies, breathing mindfully can guide your body to increase its ‘stretch tolerance’ and therefore flexibility.
You may find you want to hold the stretches for longer if you’re starting to feel more comfortable, and “sinking” into them—that’s great! Keep holding. If you feel any sharp pain, that’s when it’s time to back off.
Stretching should never be painful. Learn the difference between feeling discomfort (which is good—use your breath to manage the discomfort) and pain in order to stay safe while you stretch.
The two minutes of stretching at boutique fitness studios is not enough for the high intensity workouts they offer
“After a high intensity workout, one should have efficient and a stretch tailored to the workout to help cool down the fatigued muscles and prevent post workout muscle soreness” says Tami.
“The 2-mins of stretching at the end of a boutique fitness studio class are simply not enough to balance out the strength or cardio work that you’ve done in that class. I’d recommend stretching every day for at least 15-mins, and adding longer sessions (30-mins to 60-mins) a few times a week” says Katherine.
get to your workout early to warm up your muscles with active stretches + Keep 10-15 minutes after your workout to do static stretches, to help muscle recovery post workout. foam rollers are a great addition to this part of your routine too!
Katherine reminds us that stretching is great active recovery and can be done on your “rest days” to help mobilize the body.
StretchIt App has on-demand classes that you can take in the comfort of your own home. They are goal-focused, so you can choose to work on getting your splits, increasing your back flexibility, achieving your middle split or more!
Above photos courtesy of Katherine Kitfield, Stretch Studios Dubai