Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Take on Stretching

Although recent research states that stretching may not have an obvious impact on decreasing the chance of injury, it does have many benefits for athletes and couch potatoes alike. Almost everyone understands the feeling of "needing to stretch". After sitting for a long period of time and standing up, it's practically automatic for a person to stretch out the muscles that have tightened up while sitting. When muscles are tight, they need to be stretched. But how a person stretches can actually have a great impact on the effectiveness of the stretching. Always be sure that the muscles are warm prior to stretching. Some simple jumping jacks or marching in place for 2-3 minutes can do the trick. Following this quick warm up with some dynamic stretching is important. You want to allow the joints to slowly and gently reach full range of motion through movements. I've listed below my favorite dynamic stretches.

  1. Ankle rolls - Either sitting or standing, place one leg out in front of you and slowly roll the ankle in one direction a few times and then in the opposite direction. Focus on feeling the muscles in the foot, ankle, and lower leg "stretch" during the movement.
  2. Non-weighted squat - Standing with legs shoulder width apart, bend your knees, lower your bottom and keep your chest and head up. Your knees should never go beyond your feet. Only squat as low as is comfortable, and attempt to squat lower with each repetition. 5-10 should be good. If you have bad knees, try using a stability ball. Place the ball against a wall and lean your back into it. Use the ball to help you squat down and take some of the weight off of your knees.
  3. Arm circles - With arms outstretched to your sides at shoulder height, circle your arms in small circles about the diameter of a soccer ball. After 5-10 circles, reverse and repeat. Then increase the diameter to full range of motion of the shoulder slowly over 5-10 more reps in each direction.
  4. Neck rolls - Allow the head to relax to one side (ear to shoulder). Feel the stretch on the opposite side of the neck and slowly lower the head and roll to the opposite side. Roll from side to side, always keeping the head down. (You should not be doing full circles, but instead half circles from one side to another.)

Once you've completed dynamic stretching you can continue with a work out or if you are just stretching, continue on to more static stretches which are the more common stretches people know. These are the stretches that will help gain more flexibility and help build endurance in the muscles. Endurance is gained by increasing the capacity of the muscles, which can be done through stretching. It can also help relax the muscles if they are over-used or tight. Below I have listed my favorite static stretches. I recommend doing one repetition and holding for 15 seconds for each stretch. Make sure to always stretch both sides of the body!

  1. Neck stretch - Ear to shoulder (lateral flexion)
  2. Bicep stretch - Hold on to something at should height, keep elbow straight, and turn away
  3. Tricep stretch - Arm above head, drop hand behind head and gently use other hand to gently push elbow down.
  4. Deltoid stretch - stretch arm across chest, using other arm to gently pull arm across.
  5. Quadricep stretch - Bend your knee and pull foot behind same side buttocks. Careful to keep your knee in line with hip.
  6. Hamstring stretch - Stand with foot outstretched on a chair. Keep head and chest up and pull your toes of the outstretched leg towards you.
  7. Calf stretch - same as above with foot on the floor.
  8. Piriformis stretch - This one is difficult to explain. Lie on your back and cross your right ankle over your left knee. Gently grab your left thigh with both hands and pull your left knee towards you allowing your left food to come off the ground.
  9. Adductor stretch - while seated, put the soles of your feet together and allow knees to gently go down towards the floor. You can hold onto your feet and use your elbows to gently push the knees farther down.

If you have any questions or need tips on great ways to stretch the above muscles, please feel free to call the office. Hope this is a good start to a new stretching routine for you!