The Ins and Outs of Stretching
From the desk of Kristen Reynolds, DPT, PMA®-CPT...
Clients frequently ask me about stretching. With the wealth of information from health and wellness professionals, fitness articles, and television programs like The Biggest Loser, it is easy to be overwhelmed with determining which stretches are best for your body, whether to perform static or ballistic movements, if you should stretch before or after workouts, and how often to do them.
If you have an injury or orthopedic condition, then the answer is that you should be working with a licensed health professional to design an individualized exercise program and determine which stretch techniques are best for you. If you are an avid athlete, then it is also beneficial to seek advice from a strength and conditioning specialist for sport-specific exercises. Activities requiring a great extent of flexibility, such as holding a split position for gymnastics and hockey goaltending, should precisely know how to statically stretch hamstrings, hip flexors, and adductor (inner thigh) muscles prior to workouts and competition.
However, everyone should be aware of the general recommendations regarding the flexibility component of fitness.
Who should stretch?
Everybody. Gym rats, recreational runners, weekend warriors, and the like - this guide is for you!
What muscles should I be stretching?
To balance the muscle length in the body, think head to toe and front to back and see if you are missing any from this checklist:
- Suboccipital group
- Upper Trapezius
- Pectoral group
- Wrist Extensor group
- Iliotibial band
When should I stretch?
Stretching before or after a workout is a very controversial topic in sports medicine, as research has proved to be inconclusive.
A study presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) stated that stretching before a run neither prevents nor causes injury. Of 2,729 runners (logging >10 miles/week), the 1,366 that spent 3-5 minutes stretching quadriceps, hamstring, gastrocnemius/soleus groups before running demonstrated no difference from a randomized non-stretch group of 1,366. The scientists concluded that the most significant risk factors for injury included chronic injury or injury in the past four months, beginning or terminating pre-run stretching regimens, and high body mass index (BMI).
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recently revised its guidelines and advised against static stretching prior to workouts or competitions because evidence has demonstrated that holding a stretch more than 60 seconds reduces maximum force production, voluntary strength, and muscular power for up to an hour and can be a detriment to athletic performance.
However, a systematic review of over 100 studies published in Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise in June 2011 concluded that detrimental effects are associated with long duration, which are not typically utilized during pre-exercise routines in clinical, healthy, or athletic populations. Prolonged stretches less than 60 seconds can be performed without compromising performance.
And contrary to popular belief, a review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that stretching before or after a workout does not prevent or reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
So what is the take home message? Executing stretches at a slow tempo, in a comfortable range of motion, and holding them for approximately 30 seconds whenever you would like is absolutely safe. Try to incorporate them throughout the day. If you feel tight in a particular joint or into a certain motion, then focus more on that area until it feels equivalent to the other direction or side, such as pulling your knee to chest or stretching right ear to right shoulder.
I don’t have time or access to a gym. Where am I supposed to get stretching done?
Anywhere convenient! At your desk, brushing your teeth, on a set of bleachers at basketball, chatting on the phone, a park bench, in front of the television... wherever you will get it done. No equipment is necessary.
Why should I bother stretching?
It is vital to improve general flexibility for everyday mobility. In order to execute functional mobility, such as stair climbing, kneeling down on the floor, bending to a low shelf, and standing up from the couch, require specific joint range of motion. As the body ages and/or individuals do not perform particular motor patterns, the soft tissues in joint and muscles begin to lose elasticity and become stiff.
Kristen Reynolds earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science from James Madison University in 2006 and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the MGH Institute of Health Professions in 2009.
While practicing in orthopedics and sports medicine, a mentor introduced her to the Pilates Method and she has since pursued comprehensive certification to compliment her clinical interests. She is certified by the Pilates Method Alliance, the only professional certification in the field, as well as an active member of American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and APTA Sports Physical Therapy Section.
Always interested in sports and fitness, she is a former dancer, YMCA and Junior Olympic gymnast, coach, and ACE personal trainer. Integrating the Pilates principles and repertoire into her physical therapy practice has produced successful rehabilitation outcomes for a wide variety of patients, including adolescents, elite athletes and dancers, and individuals with chronic orthopedic conditions. Kristen utilizes this alternative therapeutic approach to improve muscle performance and joint mobility, correct posture and alignment, enhance body awareness, and create an evenly conditioned body that is more resilient to extremity and spinal injury. She greatly enjoys designing programs to target personal goals, educating clients to incorporate Pilates into their daily activities, and teaching small group Ballet Barre and Mat classes.