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Healthbeat: When and how should you properly stretch?

POSTED: May 7, 2012 1:30 a.m.

In high school, the first thing we would do at the beginning of track practice was sit on the ground for 10 minutes and perform stretching exercises like reaching for our toes. These types of flexibility exercises are called static stretching and have been a common fixture in warm-up programs for decades.

Static stretching has traditionally been performed for two primary reasons: injury prevention and performance enhancement. However, new research has found that static stretching can be detrimental to performance and does not necessarily reduce the occurrence of injuries. Some of these findings point to the fact that:

No difference has been found in the prevalence of injuries between people who statically stretched and those who did not.

It has been shown that static stretching decreases strength for as long as to an hour after the stretch.

Static stretching can cause a decrease in coordination and explosive movement after the stretch.

More recently, coaches are adopting a form of stretching known as dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching consists of functional based exercises which use sport specific movements to prepare the body for movement. These stretches involve motions that are performed quickly with little resistance, and act to improve flexibility, coordination, balance and elasticity of muscles and ligaments.

Dynamic flexibility activities can be as simple as:

kicking while walking;

walking lunges;

high knee skips;

jogging while swinging your arms in circles;

carioca exercises.

A good way to structure your exercise session would be to perform five to 10 minutes of light exercise, which could range from walking quickly to light jogging. After a gentle warm-up, perform five to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching activities that stress the body parts and movements performed in your exercise activity.

At the end of a training session, spend 10 minutes performing static stretching activities and cooling down.

It’s that time of the year that we all try to shed those winter pounds. A proper warm-up followed by some dynamic flexibility exercises will help keep you on track by limiting those nagging injures and pains while allowing you to give a peak performance.

Jim Hlavacek MS, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist at The Rehabilitation Institute, 597 South Enota Drive NE, Gainesville; 770-219-8200, www.nghs.com/rehab.

 


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