Stretching properly and sufficiently is an important part of any exercise program. Many injuries or reinjuries happen during exercise because the muscle is not at it proper length. Before your muscles can do fast or heavy work, they need to be warmed up.
If your muscles have not been active, they become small and weak which means they have atrophied. When you stretch and strengthen your muscles, you are helping them return to a more normal size. This increases their endurance and enables them to tolerate more twisting, turning, and sudden movement.
Proper stretching involves doing slow, gentle, and continuous stretches. Only minor discomfort should be experienced. When you stretch, do not bounce. This tears muscle fibers, which creates more pain.
Have you suddenly run to catch a toddler and felt a sharp cramp in your calf or foot? You experienced a spasm because the muscles in your leg were not ready for action. Even muscles that are in good shape can cramp or spasm if they experience the sudden shock of twisting or sprinting. The difference is that conditioned muscles will tolerate the shock better and return to a normal state faster than muscles that are out of shape.
Stretch Before Exercising
Stretch for at least five to ten minutes before you begin your conditioning exercises.
If you are new to stretching, hold each stretch for 20 seconds. Stretch to the point of gentle resistance, not pain.
As you and your body become more familiar with the stretches, gradually increase the stretch time to between 30 and 60 seconds.
You may find it helpful to stretch lightly and easily first, ease up, and then repeat the stretch, holding for a longer period and pushing slightly beyond the first stretch.
The object of stretching is to reduce muscle tension and promote movement, not to force yourself such that you risk overstretching and reinjury. The key is to relax as you stretch.
GUIDELINES FOR PROPER STRETCHING
- Stretch to regain the flexibility lost because of inactivity or injury.
- Do not bounce while stretching.
- Start slowly and gently. Move twice as slow as you think you should. Do ten minutes of slow stretching before starting any strengthening exercises.
- Hold stretches at least 20 seconds.
- Stretch to the point of gentle resistance, not pain. At the slightest pain, back off the stretch.
- Do not throw your head or body around. Move slowly and carefully even when getting into position for the next exercise. Proper posture and body alignment are important to not injuring yourself.
- Breathe during stretches. Begin and end exercise sessions with five to ten deep and slow diaphragmatic breaths.
- Avoid exercises right after acute injury.
- Do several short sessions rather than a few long sessions. It is better for your body to do six stretches six times a day than to do 36 stretches all at once.
- Consult your doctor if soreness persists more than two day or if your symptoms are worse immediately after exercise and do not get better the next day.
Source: Prairie Spine and Pain Institute, Dr. Richard A. Kube II, MD.