Press-Republican

November 20, 2012

Stretching for reasons you might not realize

TED SANTANIELLO, Fit Bits
Press-Republican

---- — Stretching has been around for decades, but it is commonly skipped in a person’s everyday workout. 

Why? Most likely, flexibility is not always thought of as a priority for those wanting to lose weight, tone up or develop muscle mass. But rest assured stretching is not a habit that should be considered unimportant. It should be done for a variety of reasons. Additionally, the type of stretching you practice depends on what intensity you are working out at.

RANGE OF MOTION

Many times, aerobic training is not done using the full range of motion of the joints involved. As an example, many amateur runners do not use proficient hip range of motion and as a result may lose mobility in this area. 

Professional runners have perfected their form and are strong enough to use a greater range of motion for optimal performance. This form can be seen when watching the leaders of the New York City Marathon. Their heels come all the way to their hips, and their stride is enormous, all while keeping correct posture and balance. Without optimal range of motion during repetitive movements, mobility can suffer. 

We can help to counteract this limited range of motion by stretching well after any type of aerobic exercise.

POSTURAL DEVIATIONS

Slumped shoulders, bad hip alignment and other postural discrepancies can many times be corrected by stretching the muscles that cause the misalignment. One of the most common problems I see is rounded shoulders. The most basic way to help correct this is by stretching the chest muscles (pectorals). Sometimes, however, a professional is needed to correct more complicated issues.

The postural deviation caused by tight muscles often leads to more serious issues due to improper body mechanics when moving. In many instances, the site of the problem is not the site of the cause. It is a good idea to do a full-body stretching routine instead of trying to diagnose the problem. Stretching will help allow proper movement and, in turn, help certain ailments.

TIMING

For those exercising recreationally, stretching can be done at various times during a workout routine. Stretching after the warm-up, in between sets and after the workout is ideal, but can sometimes be time-consuming. At an absolute minimum, you should stretch after the workout. Taking five to 10 minutes to stretch the major muscles, such as the chest, back, biceps, triceps, shoulders, lats, glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings, quads and calves can do wonders. Remember to hold each of these for 30 seconds at the end range of motion where you will feel mild discomfort. This type of stretching is called static stretching.

HIGH INTENSITY

If you are training for a sport or you work out at a high intensity, static stretching is not recommended before or during a workout. Instead, you should be performing a different type of stretching that is called dynamic stretching. This type of stretching involves performing exaggerated yet controlled movements that are similar to the exercise you are preparing for. An example of this would be doing slow, deep lunges to stretch the hamstrings, hip flexors and quads used to sprint. The lunge motion stretches and activates the specific muscles to get ready for jumping, sprinting and many other types of exercise that require a high-energy output.

Stretching can be thought of as a maintenance operation for your body, just like changing the oil in your car allows for smoother operation over time. If you ignore all the little problems that you have, eventually your vehicle will begin to have even larger problems. What is great about stretching is that even though it is so easy to do, it has so many positive benefits. Your goal may be to lose weight or get stronger, but make sure you realize that though stretching may not directly contribute to these goals, it does help keep you injury-free so that you can stay on track. So next time you are in a hurry and you are trying to get a quick workout in, make sure you still leave some time to stretch at the end. It will be worth every second.

Ted Santaniello, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer and the fitness manager at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.