Everything You Need to Know About Stretching

You’ve heard it said a million times: Before, after, and sometimes during class, instructors remind you to stretch out your muscles. Went to a seriously strenuous HIIT class last night? Stretching is the answer. Woke up with aches and pains? You guessed it: It’s time to stretch. Like many things in life — swimming after eating a big meal, for example — it’s something we’ve always been told without any further reasoning. We’re here to tell you that 1. stretching does your body wonders and 2. you should be doing it as often as possible (so, every day?).

Why stretching is important

Sure, you won’t be able to master your splits without stretching out your legs on the daily. Proper stretching, however, does much more than simply loosen up your muscles and joints. Along with increased flexibility and joint range of motion, stretching improves overall physical function and prevents injuries. When our muscles are tight, it’s harder for us to perform certain physical activities, which is often why we experience muscle strain, fatigue, or worse, injury. Because of this tightness, your body automatically overcompensates for weaker muscle groups, ultimately causing painful injuries. Stretching is the one — and only — thing that can prevent your body from going into overdrive. 

What type of stretches you should do

There are six main types of stretching: active, ballistic, dynamic, isometric, passive and static. Think of it this way: Yoga is a form of active stretching, while leg holds and splits are a type of passive stretching. Other stretches include:

  • Isometric stretching calls for short, isolated movements (tensing muscles, for example).
  • Ballistic stretching is when you bounce in or out of a stretch.
  • Dynamic stretching requires slow, controlled movements (arm swings, for example).
  • Static stretches are when you stretch a muscle past its furthest point and hold that position.

Some stretches — isometric, dynamic and ballistic, in particular — are best to incorporate in warm-up routines since they’ll get your body loose and limber. Static stretches are best when your body is already warm, which makes it ideal after workouts. Have some spare time while you’re lounging at home? Try active stretching, a.k.a. your go-to yoga poses.

Static vs dynamic stretching

The sports and fitness definition of flexibility is the ability of your muscles and joints to effectively move through their full range of motion (ROM). We don’t need to tell you this (ya already know) – but increasing your flexibility has many benefits, including stress reduction and injury prevention.

According to an article in Men’s Fitness, many athletes are sidelined from sports and fitness activities because they neglect to stretch on a regular basis. While you might not be competing in the big leagues, you want to stretch the right way and frequently so you can always make it to whatever class you want to take.

Dynamic stretching

During a dynamic stretchthe active muscles and joints are taken through a (sometimes) challenging and repetitive movement. With each repetition, you should feel that your ROM increases slightly. Examples of dynamic stretching movements that are used during a boot camp or strength training class warmup include:

  • Walking lunges with torso rotation
  • Traveling high kicks
  • Hand walkouts to a pushup

yoga vinyasa sequence will take your body through full ROM as well. Flowing from forward fold to plank and downward dog helps elevate your core temperature, activates your core and prepares your body for more strenuous activity.

Static stretching

When you perform a static stretch, you hold a position for a muscle or joint that is mildly uncomfortable but not painful for 30 to 60 seconds. At some time we have all done static stretches for the muscles of the upper and lower body with the intention of preventing injury and getting our body ready to work.  An article in Time magazine refers to a study that says that static stretches may inhibit your strength and speed during physical activities if done at the beginning of the workout. Static stretching is more appropriate at the end of your workout.

How to stretch

When it comes to stretching, it’s all about timing. Static stretches, in particular, should be held for at least 10 to 30 seconds to make them worthwhile. Dynamic stretches, while faster, should not feel rushed. Although it’s easy to overstretch, you’ll know that you’re doing your body more harm than good once the pain strikes. You should always feel a stretch, but it should still be comfortable and not painful. If stretching makes your body feel worse than when you initially started, it may be a sign to dial it back or simply, try a less intense stretch. Remember: Flexibility takes time and for some, it may be harder to achieve than others. Pushing your body past its limits won’t get you there; patience, practice and listening to your body will. In other words, your fitness goals start here. 

Stretching and working out at home

As we all pivot to at-home fitness, it’s imperative that you bring your stretching routine into your home! At home workout equipment helps ensure that you are set up to stretch and get limber from the comfort of your living room. Also if you’re looking to get your remote yoga flow on, check out our digital offerings!

Amanda Garrity is a commerce editor and content producer living in New York City. She finds every excuse to go on an adventure, whether it's in her own backyard or across the country. She enjoys hiking, pretending she's a prima ballerina and drinking an abundant amount of coffee. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.