Stretching: Beginner’s Guide To Flexibility

Stretching is done through movements and positions that lengthen your muscles. It keeps your muscles flexible, so you can move freely and without pain. 

Stretching has many clinical applications today. It’s used during rehabilitation from injury, for orthopedic conditions, or physical therapy.

After reading this you’ll know more about how incredible stretching is for improving your mobility. 

As a certified personal trainer, I’ll help you incorporate it into your fitness routine if you haven’t been already. 

Here’s what’s coming up. 

Why You Should Stretch
Types of Stretching
Frequently Asked Questions
Bottom Line

Why You Should Stretch 

stretching

Stretch because it’s effective to increase flexibility and the overall ability of your muscles to extend and stay loose.

Imagine going up steps with more ankle mobility, playing some hoops and your legs feel great, or doing light cardio on rest days. That’s how stretching can have a positive effect on your everyday life.

  • Your muscles are made of protein units called sarcomeres. Sarcomeres function by shortening and lengthening, but can lock up in what’s called a stretch reflex.
  • The muscle fibers tighten up automatically, because your body wants to prevent injury. This is natural in many cases.

For example, try leaning over as you stand. You’ll notice as one leg stretches, the other will contract so you can stay upright. Stretch reflexes can become uncomfortable if our muscles lock up when we want to use them. 

Things like sitting at work all day, slouching, and looking down at our phone can cause muscles to tighten up.  

Muscles in our neck, back, shoulders, and legs can get knots called trigger points. Stretching has been proven to relax tension from trigger points, relieving things like tension headaches. Find out more here.

It’s also proven to alleviate back pain and increase spinal mobility. A study showed that ten weeks of static stretching of the trunk muscles was able to increase spinal mobility in older adults.

Types of Stretching 

There are different techniques out there. The best stretch for you depends on the type of exercise or activity you want to do. 

Stretching is usually performed as part of a warm up before the exercises session. It’s thought to reduce stiffens and increase range of motion of the limbs that are stretched.

Static  

The goal of static stretching is to stretch deep into a muscle group by holding, feeling tension, and releasing while breathing evenly.

This works wonders on tight muscles and is proven to increase range of motion and flexibility. 

Static stretching is most beneficial for athletes that require flexibility in their sport, for example dancing or gymnastics.

However, static stretching for gym should be done after the workout. Stretching immediately prior to exercise does not prevent injury and can lead to bad effects on muscle performance. 

Static stretching leads to acute changes in the muscle that decrease force production. For more details on the acute changes, check out this article on Physio-Pedia.

Dynamic   

The goal of dynamic stretching is to exceed the range of motion of any muscle or joint. These stretches are not held, and are great for warming up muscles for performance.

Dynamic stretching is best for movements that are specific to your sport. For example, certain leg motions would be ideal for soccer. Some dynamic stretches you can try are lunges and high-knees. 

Dynamic stretching is better suited for athletes that do running or jumping in their sport, like basketball players or sprinters.

To avoid decrease in strength and performance, dynamic stretching is recommended for warm ups, as opposed to static stretching.

Passive   

The goal of passive stretching is to remain relaxed with no extra movement, all while something else creates force to help you stretch. For example, you can lay on your back and lift your leg.

Then using a towel, you can pull your leg up towards you to stretch it further. In the same way, another person can hold your leg to assist the stretch. 

PNF   

PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, an advanced method which combines contracting the muscle with stretching it.

This was first practiced in clinical rehabilitation facilities, but is now used by gym and athletic trainers alike. Consult a professional trained in PNF if you’re interested in learning more and trying it out. 

SMR   

SMR stands for self-myofascial release, a method where you use a foam roller, or other similar devices, to release tight muscles that are in knots.

The best method is to hold pressure in the affected area for at least 30 seconds.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Should
I Hold a Stretch?   

Studies explain to hold static stretches 15-30 seconds as beginners. 60 seconds or more for advanced. 

How Long Should I Stretch?    

A good stretching session can be 5 to 10 minutes. That can include a few stretches that repeat 2 to 4 times, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

  • It can definitely be longer, but it is better to stretch for shorter periods 2-3 times a week, rather than doing a long session once a week. 
  • Beginners can start with as little as 5-15 second holds for 2-3 times in each area to the point of some discomfort, but never pain.
  • For a beginner, anything after 15 seconds can create Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

What Do I Stretch?  

You can stretch your total body! From the ground up: ankles, calves, legs, hips, lower back, abs, sides, chest, arms, shoulder, and neck. Your body is symmetrical, so stretch both sides to prevent any imbalances. 

Muscle imbalances cause one side of your body to be stronger than the other. The strong side gets its strength because it’s more flexed and tight.

In contrast, your weaker side gets more long and loose. Some common muscle imbalances are posterior pelvic tilt and rounded shoulders. 

Not to worry! These can be corrected. If you have an existing imbalance then consult a trained professional to guide you. You can also do single leg movements like the B stance RDL to improve muscle imbalances.

When Is The Best Time
To Stretch?  

Static stretching is done best after your muscles are warm. Warmed muscles are ready to stretch and move freely without tightening or cramping.

A nice time to stretch is after your workout to cool down and allow yourself to breathe. 

If you want to stretch before your workout, start with dynamic stretches. Studies show that starting with static stretches decreases your performance strength.

Another time we naturally stretch is in the morning after waking up. It feels good to stretch the pain or stiffness away from the night.

  • We raise our arms high and stretch our torso. We may even do some twists or ankle rolls. What does your morning stretch routine look like? 
  • Our muscles are more loose in the evening compared to the morning. You can take advantage of your night time flexibility by stretching before you sleep. This will help you relax before bed. 

Can I Stretch Everyday?   

You can! But within moderation. Over-stretching is a thing. Don’t stretch past the point of comfort.

If you feel a stabbing pain or soreness the next day, then you need to stretch less. Stretching regularly will make your muscles more flexible, and it allows your body to keep its full range of motion.

Add stretching to your routine and you’ll even notice improved posture over time.It’s a good idea to periodically stretch your arms, legs, back, and neck during work to relieve any tension. 

Does Stretching
Prevent Injury?   

It depends on the type of stretches being done. Stretching is not a cure for all ailments, but it does help keep the body from over compensating for lack of flexibility and creating another injury.

I found several articles that mention how stretching prevents injury. Athletes, runners, and exercise enthusiasts often swear by this.

However, this study, and many others, state that there is enough evidence to show that routine stretching does not reduce overall injury rates. This is more reason to exercise carefully. 

Why Do I Feel Good
After Stretching?   

Stretching improves your mood because it has been shown to increase serotonin levels in this study.

Stretching also increases the flow of blood in your muscles. Blood carries essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, sugars, fats, proteins throughout your body. Blood cells also carry much needed oxygen during exercise. 

Stretching is often used as a time of mindfulness, self-gratitude, and mental clarity. It could be a quiet time to gather your thoughts, or a cool-down after an intensive weight training workout. 

Read my post on why stretching feels so good for a full break down.

Bottom Line 

Stretching can be great to increase your flexibility, keep a healthy range of motion, and reduce stress.

It helps to increase blood flow in your body and is proven to reduce back pain. Give it try and see how it improves your everyday life. 

Looking for more? Check out my article on The Crucial 15 Exercises for Your Daily Routine.

AUTHOR

Shalom is a content creator, musician, and a teacher at heart. As a certified personal trainer, his goal is to encourage others to lead healthier lives and to get buff in the process!