Thursday, May 13, 2010

The X-Factor: Stretching and Flexibility (Exercise Program #4)

In the first two post of this series I have thrown a lot of information at you regarding cardio training and strength training.  Let's ease up a bit and do something a little less stressful, like stretching. Muscles work very hard. They stretch and contract in a brilliant way to provide us with the ability to move dynamically. This does not come without consequences. When you use your muscles for excessive movements, you're actually tearing and changing the composition of the muscles. Stretching is one of the best ways to recover from an exercise bout.

Notice we haven't talked about stretching until after our workout.  This is because active stretching is done most effectively after muscles are warm.  Also, there is very little evidence to suggest that there is any benefit to stretching before your exercise session.  If anything, the stretching will take some of the "bounce" out of your step, and could hinder higher levels of performance.  But this is beyond the scope of this post.  What you need to take away is this:  
  1. warm-up before exercise (light jogging to break a sweat; not stretching)
  2. stretch after exercise (muscle recovery)
You might be saying, "Hans, I've always stretched before a run.  It feels good."   I don't doubt that, but I'm just communicating the research which says muscles should be warm before a workout (they're not if you haven't run yet) and that there's little to no benefit to stretching before the workout.  Conversely, stretching after exerting your muscles is great for recovery of all that muscle activity.

So what kind of stretches are we talking about?  Glad you asked.  For the purpose of this post, I'm going to offer three stretches for the biggest muscles you'll be using:

  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Calf (gastrocnemius)
Here's the hamstring stretch:

And if you have really tight hamstrings, you'll want to increase the stretch of the muscle like this:

Here's the quadriceps stretch:

And finally, the calf:

Do you stretch enough?  Most likely, no.  And to be honest, neither do I.  Don't take it lightly.  I've gotten a lot better over the years in my stretching and you should too.  As we get older, our muscles take longer to recover.  Injuries happen much more readily.  If you have any questions or would like some other ideas regarding your stretching, you can find me in the Comments Section.

Looking forward to the next post?  I'm about to give you a recovery drink that will make you say, "REALLY?!!?" 

(Updated research:  I just found this related article on - Want a better workout? Don't stretch before)

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