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Stretching: The Truth

-By Brett Qualls, PT, DPT, OCS

When it comes to the many different types of exercise, one of the more dreaded types is stretching.  Stretching exercises offer the body a unique variety of benefits, much different from those offered by resistance, cardiovascular, or endurance exercises.  Most health and fitness experts would argue that a health and wellness plan should include elements of each type of exercise, including stretching.

While most would say that doing some stretching is better than doing none, there are certainly better ways of stretching than others.  Generally speaking: if it hurts, you are doing it wrong.  A good guideline for stretching is that the exercise should be “strong but comfortable”.

The Benefits

A regular program of stretching offers many benefits.  Regular stretching helps to improve and maintain range of motion.  Many muscles will actually shorten if not elongated with intentional stretching.  Unable to lean forward and touch your toes?  Chances are that dedication to stretching of your hamstring muscles will help make this seemingly impossible feat a reality.  Stretching can also help to ease muscle tension.  Many people find that regular stretching can help to reduce tension across the tops of their shoulders and neck.

Stretching exercises are frequently used in the management of many common conditions.  Stretching has been used for those with low back pain, neck pains, poor posture, headaches, tendonitis, and even arthritis.   Several helpful stretches are illustrated on this page.  As with any exercise, it is suggested to refer to your healthcare professional prior to starting any program.

How to Stretch

How do you do it?  While there are a variety of methods to stretching, the safest method for stretching is known as a static stretch.  This is one where you place a muscle in a lengthened position and hold it in that position to stretch it.  Current research says that holding a stretch for 30 seconds will allow for maximum benefit.  It is important to note that the word “seconds” was used.  If you count 0-30 as quickly as possible, you may as well not be doing the exercise.  Counting in “alligators” helps to keep me from being too speedy.  A realistic stretching prescription would be to complete three to five repetitions of each stretch, and stretching at least three times per week.

While a ballistic or “bouncing” type of stretch does have its place in the fitness world, most would advocate that there is an inherent risk for injury with this type of stretching.  If we look at one of the primary benefits to stretching as being improved muscle length or decreased tension, a more gentle stretch over a longer period of time is what is necessary to achieve that goal.

Aside from the inherent health benefits, it feels good.  You will never know until you give it a try.  Stretching can be done before, during, or after your normal exercise routine.  Many people find stretching first thing in the morning helps them to limber up and prepares them to face the challenges of their day.

*Copyright Havasu Living Magazine