Stretching: A key component of your exercise program

  1. Stretching: A key component of your exercise program

    Stretching: A key component of your exercise program
    Special to

    You pound out mile after mile on the treadmill. You grunt and groan your way through a series of weight-lifting exercises. You even add some time on the stationary bike for good measure. And you smile with satisfaction that you made it through your workout. Nothing to do now but hit the shower.

    Not so fast. Did you take time to stretch out those muscles that pulled you through your invigorating workout? Most cardiovascular and strength-training programs inherently cause your muscles to contract and flex. For equal balance, pay attention to lengthening, or stretching, those muscles after your workout.

    Benefits of stretching

    You'll reap many benefits from adding regular stretching to your fitness goals:

    Increased flexibility. Flexible muscles can improve your daily performance. Daily tasks, such as lifting packages, bending to tie your shoe or hurrying to catch a bus, become easier and less tiring. Flexibility diminishes as you get older, but it can be regained and maintained.
    Improved circulation. Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles. Blood flowing to your muscles brings nourishment and gets rid of waste byproducts in the muscle tissue. Improved circulation can help shorten your recovery time if you've had any muscle injuries.
    Better posture. Frequent stretching can help keep your muscles from getting tight, allowing you to maintain proper posture. Good posture can minimize discomfort and keep aches and pains at a minimum.
    Stress relief. Stretching relaxes tight, tense muscles that often accompany times of stress.

    Enhanced coordination. Maintaining the full range of motion through your joints keeps you in better balance. Especially as you get older, coordination and balance will help keep you mobile and less prone to injury from falls.
    Many experts believe that stretching can also reduce your risk of injury in sports. "The more prepared your muscles are for an activity, the more protected you are against injury," says Edward Laskowski, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and co-director of the Sports Medicine Center at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

    Dr. Laskowski explains, "If your joints are not able to go through their full range of motion because of muscle tightness, sports and exercise activities may put an excessive load on the tissue and contribute to injury. Think of a runner with tight calf muscles and a tight Achilles tendon running up a hill. This activity requires that the ankle bend up to accommodate the slope of the hill. But if it can't because of tightness, the runner may be at risk of getting Achilles tendon irritation and injury."

    Stretching essentials

    Basic stretches to improve your flexibility should focus on your body's major muscle groups: calf, thigh, hip, lower back, neck and shoulder.

    Warm up first. Stretching muscles when they're cold increases your risk of pulled muscles. Warm up by walking while gently pumping your arms, or do a favorite exercise at low intensity for 5 minutes.

    Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. It takes time to lengthen tissues safely. Hold your stretches for at least 30 seconds and up to a minute for a really tight muscle or problem area. That can seem like a long time, so wear a watch or keep an eye on the clock to make sure you're holding your stretches long enough. For most of your muscle groups, if you hold the stretches for at least 30 seconds, you'll need to do each stretch only once.

    Don't bounce. Bouncing as you stretch can lead to muscle injuries. It causes small tears (microtears) in the muscle, which leave scar tissue as the muscle heals. The scar tissue tightens the muscle even further, making you even less flexible and more prone to pain.

    Focus on a pain-free stretch. If you feel pain as you stretch, you've gone too far. Back off to the point where you don't feel any pain that's where you'll want to hold the stretch.

    Relax and breathe freely. Don't hold your breath while you're stretching.

    Stretch before and after. Light stretching after your warm-up followed by a more thorough stretching regimen after your workout is your best bet.

    In addition to stretching major muscle groups, stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use at work or play. Sport-specific stretching prepares your muscles for a particular sport or activity. For example, if you frequently play tennis or golf, working in a few extra shoulder stretches loosens the muscles around your shoulder joint, making it feel less tight and more ready for action.

    When and how often

    "Stretch as often as you exercise," Dr. Laskowski recommends. "Most experts recommend a cool-down period anyway after exercise. Going into your stretches after your workout is a good way to cool down."

    Ideally, stretch twice every time you exercise briefly after a warm-up and more thoroughly after your workout. But if you're like a lot of people, clearing your schedule for the workout itself is a feat. You may not feel as if you have time to stretch twice during your exercise.

    "If you're only going to stretch once during your workout, do it afterward," Dr. Laskowski advises. "It's best to stretch after exercise, when the muscle is warm and more receptive to stretching."

    Keep in mind that if you plan to stretch only after your workout, warm up a little more slowly. Increase the intensity of the activity more slowly than you would have if you had stretched your muscles at the beginning of the exercise. For example, if you go for a bike ride or a walk, start off slowly before increasing your pace. When you're finished and your muscles are warm, you can do your stretches.

    If you're not a regular exerciser, you can still benefit from a regular stretching routine. Try to stretch at least three times a week to maintain flexibility.

    If you exercise routinely but have a problem area, such as tightness in the back of your leg (hamstring), you might want to stretch every day or even twice a day.

    No gym required

    Stretching is something you can easily do anytime, anywhere in your home, your office, or even when you're traveling. Remember that you're aiming to stretch at least three times a week. If you can't get a full workout in, you can still benefit from stretching at least that often.

    Do what works for you

    Stretching may not be advised if you have certain types of injuries. For example, don't stretch strained muscles unless under a therapist's direction you could cause further harm. If you have an injury or have a chronic condition, you may need to alter your approach to stretching. Talk with your doctor or a physical therapist

  2. this ain't an optional thing either, obviously... do it, or sooner or later you WILL break yo ****.

  3. i plan on taking some yoga once a week...that should help out with my flexibility as well

  4. yoga's not all that bad, but a well thought out static stretching program will help way more. it allows you to concentrate on inflexible areas more. ha your taking yoga! just kidding.

    cheers, pete

  5. I do Yoga!

  6. in all fairness it is great to see people working on flexibility as it is an important component of weight training. as a student, i have to focus my time on the most return for my time, this is why i spend 90% of my stretching working on hams and calves which are tight for me (most likely due to past injuries to knees and ankle)

  7. im not taking yoga for the flexibility, im taking it for like spirituality reasons.....focus...stress...m editation..that kinda thing...

    im planning on becoming a super hero

  8. cool. i'm kind of lucky, i don't have stress in my life (i kind of ignore stuff that isn't relavent and don't get worked up too much - except stupid people, they should be shot, so much less stress for all the rest of us)

  9. i have been doing DC's extreme stretching plan and ill tell you what i tried doing it one day (after your set) and then the next time i worked out i didnt do it.. it realllly prevents soreness the next day.. good post yj

  10. Originally posted by LakeMountD
    i have been doing DC's extreme stretching plan and ill tell you what i tried doing it one day (after your set) and then the next time i worked out i didnt do it.. it realllly prevents soreness the next day.. good post yj
    Can someone post a link to DC's extremem stretching plan? Why the day after and not the day of exercise/post exercise?

    I'm curious cause I'm planning on integrating some stretching into my routine (I'm an inflexible bastard). Searching on here and a quick look in pubmed, I came across a study that indicates stretching is not an effective method of treating DOMS. The study does indicate that subsequent exercise is the best method. I wonder if by waiting a day it helps decrease DOMS, where if you did it post exercise it would be innefective.

    Any hoot, I'm new to this whole thing of trying to make informed decisions. I'm not sure whether I should hate this board for inspiring me to try and question information or thank them. I'll report on this at a later date

    Please provide insights and your thougts.

    The abstract of the study is pasted below

    Sports Med 2003;33(2):145-64 Related Articles, Links

    Delayed onset muscle soreness : treatment strategies and performance factors.

    Cheung K, Hume P, Maxwell L.

    School of Community Health and Sports Studies, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand.

    Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a familiar experience for the elite or novice athlete. Symptoms can range from muscle tenderness to severe debilitating pain. The mechanisms, treatment strategies, and impact on athletic performance remain uncertain, despite the high incidence of DOMS. DOMS is most prevalent at the beginning of the sporting season when athletes are returning to training following a period of reduced activity. DOMS is also common when athletes are first introduced to certain types of activities regardless of the time of year. Eccentric activities induce micro-injury at a greater frequency and severity than other types of muscle actions. The intensity and duration of exercise are also important factors in DOMS onset. Up to six hypothesised theories have been proposed for the mechanism of DOMS, namely: lactic acid, muscle spasm, connective tissue damage, muscle damage, inflammation and the enzyme efflux theories. However, an integration of two or more theories is likely to explain muscle soreness. DOMS can affect athletic performance by causing a reduction in joint range of motion, shock attenuation and peak torque. Alterations in muscle sequencing and recruitment patterns may also occur, causing unaccustomed stress to be placed on muscle ligaments and tendons. These compensatory mechanisms may increase the risk of further injury if a premature return to sport is attempted.A number of treatment strategies have been introduced to help alleviate the severity of DOMS and to restore the maximal function of the muscles as rapidly as possible. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have demonstrated dosage-dependent effects that may also be influenced by the time of administration. Similarly, massage has shown varying results that may be attributed to the time of massage application and the type of massage technique used. Cryotherapy, stretching, homeopathy, ultrasound and electrical current modalities have demonstrated no effect on the alleviation of muscle soreness or other DOMS symptoms. Exercise is the most effective means of alleviating pain during DOMS, however the analgesic effect is also temporary. Athletes who must train on a daily basis should be encouraged to reduce the intensity and duration of exercise for 1-2 days following intense DOMS-inducing exercise. Alternatively, exercises targeting less affected body parts should be encouraged in order to allow the most affected muscle groups to recover. Eccentric exercises or novel activities should be introduced progressively over a period of 1 or 2 weeks at the beginning of, or during, the sporting season in order to reduce the level of physical impairment and/or training disruption. There are still many unanswered questions relating to DOMS, and many potential areas for future research.

    PMID: 12617692 [PubMed - in process]

  11. chest=flat bench 90lb dumbells chest high--lungs full of air--first 10 seconds drop down into deepest stretch and then next 50 seconds really push the stretch (this really really hurts) but do it faithfully and come back in this message board in 4 weeks and tell me if your chest isn't much fuller and rounder

    triceps-seated on a flat bench-my back up against the barbell---75lb dumbell in my hand behind my head(like in an overhead dumbell extension)--sink dumbell down into position for the first 10 seconds and then an agonizing 50 seconds slightly leaning back and pushing the dumbell down with the back of my head

    shoulders-this one is tough to describe--put barbell in squat rack shoulder height--face away from it and reach back and grab it palms up (hands on bottom of bar)---walk yourself outward until you are on your heels and the stretch gets painfull--then roll your shoulders downward and hold for 60 seconds

    biceps--just like the above position but hold barbell palms down now (hands on top of bar)--sink down in a squatting position first and if you can hack it into a kneeling position and then if you can hack that sink your butt down--60 seconds--I cannot make it 60 seconds--i get to about 45--its too painfull--if you can make it 60 seconds you are either inhuman or you need to raise the bar up another rung

    back--honestly for about 3 years my training partner and I would hang a 100lb dumbell from our waist and hung on the widest chinup bar (with wrist straps) to see who could get closest to 3 minutes--I never made it--i think 2 minutes 27 seconds was my record--but my back width is by far my best bodypart--i pull on a doorknob or stationary equipment with a rounded back now and its way too hard too explain here--just try it and get your feel for it

    hamstrings--either leg up on a high barbell holding my toe and trying to force my leg straight with my free hand for an excruciating painfull 60 seconds or another exercise I could only show people and not type here

    quads--facing a barbell in a power rack about hip high --grip it and simultaneously sink down and throw your knees under the barbell and do a sissy squat underneath it while going up on your toes. then straighten your arms and lean as far back as you can---60 seconds and if this one doesn't make you hate my guts and bring tears to your eyes nothing will---do this one faithfully and tell me in 4 weeks if your quads dont look alot different than they used to

    calves--my weak bodypart that i couldnt get up too par until 2 years ago when i finally thought it out and figured out how to make them grow (with only one set twice a week too) I dont need to stretch calves after because when i do calves I explode on the positive and take 5 seconds to get back to full stretch and then 15 seconds at the very bottom "one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand etc" --15 seconds stretching at the bottom thinking and trying to flex my toes toward my shin--it is absolutely unbearable and you will most likely be shaking and want to give up at about 7 reps (i always go for 12reps with maximum weights)--do this on a hack squat or a leg press--my calves have finally taken off due to this and caught up to the rest of me thank god

  12. i need some help with stretching my shoulders and traps. its really getting bad. ie, i will stand straight up, raise my arms backwards, hold my hands together and try to lift up towards my head. last time i did it, i heard an awful popping sound--didnt hurt but something isnt right there.

    its actually starting to scare me. i dont know if its due to my larger lats now, or what. but i used to be able to raise my arms pretty high. compared to now, its horrible. i know one day its gonna be impossible to even raise my arms backwards at all. its almost to that point now. i need some advice pronto.

    will this always be like this? can i fix it at all, while still putting on muscle?


  13. you shouldnt have to stretch yoru traps.. those are fine.. as for the shoulders dont grab one hand with the other.. stand facing away from a bar that is set sort of high, like around your upper back (smythe machine allows you to place the bar at various heights), then raise your hands from your sides to the bar which is still behind you but make sure your arms are still in their natural positions meaning your hands are still even with your shoulders.. then start walking forward.. youll definitely feel the stretch..

  14. oh ok, i gotcha now.

    but for my other ? about raising my arms behind my back. is this normal when u get some descent mass, or is it due to lack of stretching?

    thx again.


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