Stretches: the basics

Stretching is a very important part of your training. Let’s get into situation. You run for 5km on the treadmill. You exercise your muscles through a series of bodybuilding exercises. You also add a few minutes on the exercise bike to cool down and at the end, you finish the workout with a big smile for another day of hard training and head for the shower. Not so fast. Have you considered stretching those muscles you were working on a few minutes ago? Most aerobic and bodybuilding programs cause your muscles to contract and stretch. In this same way, it’s important to do a series of stretches once you’ve finished your workout.

Benefits of stretching

  • Increases flexibility. Flexible muscles will improve your daily performance. Tasks like lifting packages, bending over or flexing to the ground, running to catch the bus will become easier.
  • Stretching increases the percentage of movement in our joints. A greater range of motion will improve your balance, mobility and make you more resistant to possible injury – especially as we get older.
  • Stretching improves circulation. It improves blood circulation to the muscles. Better circulation translates into better recovery after muscle injuries.
  • Stretching promotes a more favorable body position. Stretching regularly prevents your muscles from tightening, allowing you to maintain a more optimal position and minimizing pain.
  • Stretching can reduce stress. Stretching relaxes muscles that are under tension that are often accompanied by states of stress.
  • Stretching can prevent injuries. Preparing your muscles and joints for any type of activity can protect you from injury, especially if your muscles and joints are strained.

Basic tips

Ready, set, stretch!

  • Work different muscle groups. When you stretch, pay special attention to your thighs, hips, calves, lower back, neck and shoulders. Also stretch those muscles that you use often at work, sport or training. Warm up first. Stretching when your muscles are cold increases your risk of injury, including muscle pulling. To warm up, walk for a period of time while moving your arms or do your favorite exercise for five minutes at a moderate/low intensity. A word of caution: if you plan on stretching after your workout, increase the intensity of your workout more progressively and smoothly; if, on the other hand, you have stretched before your workout, train as usual.
  • Keep each stretch a minimum of 30 seconds – it takes time to stretch the muscles safely – and up to 60 seconds for very tense or problematic areas. This may seem like a long time, so keep the time under control. Repeat each stretch for the opposite muscle. For most muscle groups, a simple stretch of adequate duration is sufficient.
  • Don’t bounce! Avoid it completely; these bounces can cause small cracks in the muscle. If these cracks do not heal properly, they can end up leaving a scar, making the muscle tighter – making you more rigid and prone to pain.
  • Try to do “painless” stretching sessions. Don’t be surprised to notice tension in the muscles when you stretch. If it hurts, you’re stretching too much. Go back to the point where you don’t feel any pain and kill the position.
  • Relax and breathe lightly. Don’t hold your breath during your stretching session. As a general rule, stretch every time you train. If you don’t train regularly, stretch at least 3 times a week to stay flexible. If you have any problem areas, such as a stiff back or leg, it’s best to stretch once or even twice a day. Know when to stretch. You can stretch anywhere and anytime – at home, at work, or when you are working. If you have a chronic injury, consider some modifications to your stretching. For example, if you have a muscle strain, stretching as you normally do can cause more damage. Contact your doctor or physical therapist for advice.