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When you’re short on time, stretching is usually the first part of your workout to go. However, do you know all of the benefits you are missing out on? Stretching as little as two to three times a week can lead to better balance, decreased occurrence of back pain and achy joints, improved mood and muscle coordination, and increased range of motion. Flexibility is an essential component to maintaining good range of motion. As we age, our muscles tend to get tighter. Incorporating flexibility into your daily fitness routine will make a huge impact on muscle mobility.
There are so many different types and ways to stretch. In this article I will go over three stretching techniques: dynamic, static, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF).
Dynamic stretches are done to prepare your body for movement. A dynamic stretch is a moving stretch; it puts joints through the full range of motion. Examples are jumping jacks, high knees, butt kickers, lunges, squats… the list goes on. Theses types of stretches are ideal to do before a workout or game to get your muscles warmed up and ready to work.
Static stretching is a non-moving stretch. Often times I hear people complain about stretching because it is “painful.” If it’s painful, you are probably stretching too far. You should only hold the position to the point of mild discomfort. A part of static stretching is passive stretching. This is where an external force is helping with the stretch—whether that’s a partner, a bench, or even just gravity. With or without an external force helping you perform the stretch, static stretching is one of the best ways to really improve your flexibility. Static stretching is most beneficial to do after finishing a workout. I recommend performing each stretch two to three times, holding it for 20-30 seconds, and doing this at least three times a week.
PNF stretching is where you contract the antagonistic (opposing) muscle prior to relaxing the muscle you are going to stretch. For example, lie down on your back with one leg up in the air. If you have normal range of motion, you should be able to raise that leg to 90 degrees with a straight knee. If you can’t do that, you know you need to work on your flexibility. Have a partner assist you by holding your leg in place as you contract your quad by pushing against the resistance of your partner. Do this for about 8-10 seconds. Then relax your leg and allow your partner to push your leg towards your head until you reach mild discomfort. Hold this position for about 20 seconds. Repeat this two to three times and watch your flexibility improve.
As tedious and time consuming as stretching might sound, it’s well worth it. Try being consistent for just two weeks and see if you notice a difference in the way your body feels, the way you move, and even your mood.
Photo Courtesy of Chelsie Starley Photography
Kelli is a NASM CPT and is FNS certified. She currently trains clients at Vasa Fitness. Kelli earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Exercise Science from Utah Valley University where she currently teaches Fitness For Life.