We all know that we’re supposed to stretch. We have good intentions but maybe we’re not sure what to do or how to do it. Is it before I exercise or after? How long should I do it for? And our work out is done and over and we’re off to the next thing on the list. I know, I’m guilty of it to. But we need to remember that flexibility is a key part of our fitness health so we should make a concise effort to do it. The cold winter is especially a good time to focus on this because our muscles are colder and need a little more help warming up, plus it’s good exercise that we can easily do inside and in front of the TV.
So how do I increase my flexibility? I stretch before and after I exercise and I do it differently because they serve two different goals.
Before I exercise I prefer to do a more active stretch. The goal here is to warm your muscles in preparation for your workout. This could be jumping jax which raise your heart rate and stretches your extremities. You can do some pick ups (short sprints), or lunges.
After I exercise I do a more traditional stretch routine. The goal here is to stretch your muscles to gain flexibility because your body is already warmed up and loose. I make sure I cover the major muscle groups, especially my legs, and focus on my quads and hamstrings. In order to get the maximum benefit, I hold each stretch for AT LEAST 40 seconds and repeat the stretches on each side 2-3 times.
What do you do to increase your flexibility?
As my mileage is steadily increasing in preparation for the marathon I need to remember to practice what I preach – that is to stretch.
I’m running more days of the week and I’m out there longer. I’ve also added interval training back into the routine to maximize my muscle capacity. What I realized that I need to pay more attention is my flexibility and more specifically, my hamstrings. I didn’t come up with this on my own – my body told me and it decided to tell me halfway through my Tuesday night run. You’re body has this amazing ability to get your attention and if you ignore it, it will only scream louder until you listen. So, my hamstrings are pretty sore and my calves are a little tight too now that I think about it.
The best way to gain the most from your stretching is actually after your workout when your muscles are already warmed up. Yes, I know – you need to stretch before you workout but that’s more of a warm up and doesn’t do much for your overall flexibility.
You need to focus on your major muscle groups for the most part. Your quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings are all importing but don’t forget about your back – those are core muscles there too! Most of know the basic stretches: lean against a wall with your feet flat give you a pretty good calf stretch, touching your toes is good for hamstrings, and holding your ankle behind you really gets the front of your thigh (Quad). However, to get the maximum benefit, make sure you’re holding the stretch for at least 30-40 seconds and two times each alternating sides. Anything less than that is not going to give you the flexibility needed to keep injury and soreness at bay.