20 Cool Down Songs to Refresh Your Stretching Routine
An athlete’s schedule is a full one: training hard to reach a new PR, refueling with nutrient-dense meals, getting adequate sleep, and sorting upcoming race details. Making time for stretching before and after a workout probably doesn’t happen for most of us. Let’s take a look at what stretching really entails, the short-term and long-term benefits, and how to stretch correctly.
Dynamic vs. Static
It’s important to understand that stretching actually includes two types: dynamic and static. Both are important for your workout and to improve muscle tissue quality.
Men’s Fitness writer Lee Boyce breaks it down for us.
“Dynamic stretching involves putting muscles through their full range of motion by way of mobilizing the joints to which the muscles attach…. Dynamic stretching will elevate the muscles’ temperature, and ramp the nervous system up so the body’s right where it needs to be when your first set begins.”
Obviously, dynamic stretching is best before you begin your workout. The post-workout stretching, also known as static stretching, is what comes to mind when most of us picture stretching. But did you know static stretching can also be helpful throughout a workout?
“Since static stretching can act to dull the nervous system, we can use that to our advantage during our workouts. If we’re noticing a muscle getting too involved in an exercise when it’s not welcome (a good example would be the quads dominating a squat and not leaving room for the glutes and hamstrings), we can strategically static stretch our quads between sets to lower their nervous involvement and give more of the work to the wanted muscles,” explained Boyce.
“Stretching can help improve flexibility. And better flexibility may improve your performance in physical activities or decrease your risk of injuries by helping your joints move through their full range of motion,” shared the Mayo Clinic. “Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscle. And you may come to enjoy the ritual of stretching before — or better yet, after — hitting the trail, ballet floor or soccer field.”
One lesser-known benefit of stretching was discussed in a study authored by Arnold Nelson, an associate professor of kinesiology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge quoted in an NBC News article.
Nelson found that stretching and strength training have more in common than one would think. “We suspect [stretching is] activating some of the same things in the cell that exercise activates,” he said.
In the study, two groups were involved in a stretching experiment. One group stretched for 40 minutes several times a week for 10 weeks. The other group did not stretch.
“Not surprisingly, those on the stretching program improved their flexibility, demonstrated by an average 18 percent increase in the distance they could reach during stretching…. But they also increased their strength, as measured by their ability to perform on weight machines. The amount of weight they could lift one time—their “one-repetition maximum”—increased an average of 32 percent for knee extension exercises and 15 percent for knee flexion exercises,” explained the study.
With all these healthy benefits available with a regular stretching routine, let’s take a look at some expert stretching tips. The Mayo Clinic outlines the basics below.
Stretching can help improve flexibility. And better flexibility may improve your performance in physical activities or decrease your risk of injuries
Tips to Better Stretching
Static stretching is not a warm-up. In fact, you can actually hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. Start by walking, jogging, or biking lightly for 5 to 10 minutes. Follow that with some dynamic stretching. The best time for static is after exercise—when your muscles are warm and pliable.
Make major muscle groups your focus. Take your time stretching the shoulders, neck, lower back, hips, thighs, and calves.
No bouncing. If you bounce when static stretching it can cause small tears in the muscle. “These tears leave scar tissue as the muscle heals, which tightens the muscle even further, making you less flexible and more prone to pain. So, hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. Repeat each stretch three or four times,” recommended the Mayo Clinic.
Don’t be afraid to make it sport specific. If you play soccer, stretch those hamstrings to strengthen your vulnerable area. Runners should take the time to stretch out hip flexors and quads.
Between the impressive benefits (improved flexibility, increased performance, lowered injury risk, boosted strength, and increased blood flow) and the expert how-to tips, stretching is definitely worth the added few minutes. Consider making it a higher priority in your training schedule. Let us know what you find.