We now round out our “Diet and Exercise for Life” series with stretching methods. Last month we discussed how– contrary to popular belief – traditional stretching (static stretching) is best performed after exercising. Now we’ll discuss the different components of stretching:
- Warm up
- Dynamic stretching
- Foam rolling
- Static stretching
Warming up has multiple benefits, including reducing injury, improving performance, and eliminating a sudden transition from rest to work. Start with five minutes of a light aerobic activity for a full body warm up. Then warm up the specific muscles that will be used during the planned exercise activity. Examples include a brisk walk prior to a jog, push-ups prior to a bench press, and jumping in place before playing basketball. For weight lifting, a light first set of each exercise should serve as warm ups throughout your routine.
Dynamic stretching can be incorporated into your warm up. This technique involves simulating the movements that you will use during your exercise activity. Examples include swinging your legs a dozen times prior to running, moving your arms in circles before swimming, and rolling your head before racquet sports.
With repeated use, scar tissue can accumulate in our muscles. Foam rolling – or myofascial release – is the technique in which a 6-inch foam roll is used to “self-massage” your muscles. Applying pressure to and rolling over this foam cylinder will loosen the scar tissue. Foam rolling can be performed before, after, or even separately from your exercise sessions.
Static stretching – or traditional stretching – should be performed at the end of an exercise routine. At that point the muscles are fully warmed up. As discussed last month, stretching prior to exercising can actually increase your risk of injury. Since a muscle’s first response to stretching is to tighten, each stretch should be held at least 20 seconds. Although some discomfort is expected, stretching should never be painful.
To gain even more flexibility, one exercise day per week can be solely dedicated to the four components of stretching. Yoga is another option. Be patient and be consistent.