Ah, stretching. When do I stretch? Before, during or after my workout? What muscles do I stretch? How long do I hold each stretch? So many questions and only a few concrete answers. If you ask 10 different personal trainers you will most likely get 10 different answers. I’m going to touch on a few guidelines below – I might not answer all of your questions but hopefully it will at least give you an outline to work with:
– Avoid stretching without a proper warm up. Muscles are much more responsive to stretching when they have had a few minutes to warm up.
– Take the time to educate yourself on proper stretching techniques. The worst way to learn how to stretch is by watching others. So many people out there use improper form when stretching. Either attend a stretch class at your local gym or hire a personal trainer for a couple sessions to teach you a useful stretching routine. Massage therapists are also an excellent source of information on stretching.
– Yoga is a great way to stretch but it isn’t the only way. Taking a simple stretching class can be just as helpful as Yoga.
-If you do choose Yoga as your route to stretching, be sure to educate yourself on the type of Yoga that you are taking – some are more focused on stretching, posture and alignment than others. I recommend Iyengar Yoga – it is in my opinion the best form of Yoga for those wanting to improve flexibility and posture.
-Always stretch after finishing a workout. I always stretch the following muscle groups (these might not be appropriate for you specifically): hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, glute medius, IT Band, upper back (Rhomboids), Chest (Pec Major) and neck. This list varies with each specific workout but will most likely include most of these muscles.
– If you do choose to stretch during a workout – warm up first and then stretch muscles that are particularly tight – or those that you know tend to get tight during your exercise routine (for example; hamstrings and glute medius may need a pre-workout stretch for runners). This is a quick stretch as you don’t want to cool down too much.
– To prevent injury and recover from a workout you can stretch each muscle group for as little as 10 seconds, but if increasing your flexibility is important to you then a longer stretch (30 seconds or more) will be necessary.
– Stretching is not a passive activity. If you are really wanting to increase your flexibility and improve your posture you have to actively take part in your stretching routine (which means it might be uncomfortable). The during part may not feel so great, but afterwards you will experience less soreness and will be must less likely to get injured.
– This is my favorite one: Standing in good posture is one of the best ways to continually stretch your body. Defy gravity and stand up tall. Get all the length you can out of your spine, hips and legs.
Main thing is this: Stretching is one of the most important aspects of any fitness routine and is often the most overlooked. Take 5 minutes off of your weight routine or cardio work to stretch. It’s worth it.