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Stretching

By 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.

Benefits of Stretching

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:

  • Improve range of motion
  • Strengthen joints and muscles
  • Aid in clearing lactic acid from muscles, reducing soreness as a result
  • Reduce likelihood of injury
  • Improve posture
  • Increase blood flow to the muscles

Types of Stretching

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.

Make the Most of Your Stretching

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:

  • Do light aerobic activity to warm up muscles – jogging in place, slow-paced jumping jacks, etc.
  • Stretch for five to 10 minutes. If static stretching, hold each position for 15 to 30 seconds, stretching to the point that you are uncomfortable, but not in pain. If dynamic stretching, start with small movements and increase the range of your movement with each rep, stopping when you have reached your full range of motion. Typically, this should take eight to 12 reps.
  • Do your work out.
  • Finish with five to 10 minutes of stretching similar to your warm-up stretch. To get the full benefits of stretching, it is important that you do not skip this last step.