John P. Sheehan, M.D.
Minor as it may seem, stretching is actually a very important part of every work out. Unfortunately, the practice is often executed poorly or skipped over for the sake of saving a few minutes.
Though stretching is something typically thought of as a ritual to prepare for activity or an exercise to increase the ease with which you can touch the floor, it actually has a number of benefits beyond that. Stretching can:
There are many types of stretching, but the two most commonly mentioned are static and dynamic.
Static stretching is when you stretch your body to the farthest point it can go without injury and hold that position. Examples of static stretching are your typical pulling the arm across the chest or touching your toes and holding for a few breaths.
Dynamic stretching involves controlled movement to the limit of your range of motion, but not beyond it. Examples of dynamic stretches are torso twists or swinging your leg across the front of your body. When doing dynamic stretching, it is important to avoid ballistic stretching.
Ballistic stretching uses momentum to carry out bouncing movements that push your body past its limit of range of motion. This type of stretching might include motions like bending at the waist to touch your toes and quickly bouncing your torso up and down to reach farther. Not only is it ineffective, it’s also highly discouraged.
One problem with the preconception that stretching is to prepare for activity, is that exercisers do it first thing and try to stretch out “cold” muscles, or muscles that haven’t been warmed up with some sort of activity. Like ballistic stretching, this tactic is ineffective and potentially harmful to your muscles. Instead follow a routine similar to this: