The Proper Way to Stretch Before Exercising

You’ve always heard that you should get in a good stretch before you begin exercising. But did you know that stretching improperly can actually do more harm than good? Today we’ll be running through the proper way to stretch before exercising and will provide some examples for you to try at home.

Why should you stretch?

The point of stretching is pretty simple: stretching helps increase range of motion, flexibility and mobility prior to exercising. Breaking out into a full sprint on a unstretched body is asking for a pulled muscle or shin splints. But sprinting after a little warming up, calve stretch and hamstring stretch will provide you with a much better running experience.  Stretching can not only help prevent injury during your exercise, but can also help improve your posture as well.

There are two basic types of stretching, static stretches and dynamic stretches. Static stretches refers to stretching performed in place; sitting, standing etc. and holding the assigned stretch for a particular period of time. Dynamic stretching involves stretching while moving, rather than being still.

What is the best way to stretch?

The old school way of stretching was always to perform static stretches just before working out. Sitting on the floor or standing and touching your toes; pulling your arms behind your back; tilting your head to the side and holding; these are all examples of static stretches. However, the newer school of thought is that no stretch should be performed on a cold body as the stretch itself has the potential to make you more prone to tears, pulls and strains. That being said, static stretching is not all bad; performing static stretches on a body that has been warmed up first has proven to be more beneficial and safer on your body. If Static stretches are your preferred way to get your legs, arms and hips ready for exercise, consider a few minutes of cardio first, such as a light jog, shuffles, jumping rope or jumping jacks.

Dynamic stretches involve warming up the body while you are performing the stretch, rather than warming up beforehand. This stretching method is said to increase strength and power while reducing the likelihood of injury. The type of stretches and warming up you choose to do can be targeted towards the activity you will be performing, or can be used as an all-around body warm up. REMEMBER, these stretches are about preparing for exercise, not about being exercises themselves. Take things slow and listen to your body.

Examples of Dynamic Stretches:

Arm Circles

Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, hold your arms out to your sides, parallel to the ground, with your palms facing down. Slowly make clockwise circles with your arms, start with 5 small circles, then 5 medium size circles, followed by 5 large circles. Repeat this exercise moving in the counter clockwise direction.

Arm Crosses

Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, hold your arms out to your sides, parallel to the ground, with your palms facing down. Slowly cross your arms in front of your chest, allowing one arm to overlap the other. Then slowly swing your arms back to the starting position. Complete 10-15 repetitions,  allowing your arms to change which arm is on top of the other when they overlap.

Bodyweight Squats

Standing with your feet hip width apart, gently squat down until your thighs are parallel with the ground in a squat position. Do not let your knees go past your feet. Slowly return to standing. Complete 10-15 squats.

High Knees

Think of this as marching in place. With your feet shoulder width apart, bring up one knee high towards your chest. Then slowly bring it back down and repeat with your opposite leg. Incorporating arm swings will help with balance and warming up your body. Complete 10-15 high knees on each side.

Side Bends

Placing your hands at your sides, gently bend at the waist to one side and slide your hand down your leg. When you start to feel a pull on the opposite hip, stop and come back up to standing. Repeat on the other side. Complete 10-15 side bends on each side.

Hip Rotations

Place your legs hip width apart. With your hands on your hips, slowly make counter clockwise circles with your hips, pushing your hips outward to the front and pushing your butt slightly backward when coming back through the rotation. Complete 10-15 hip rotations in the clockwise direction, then repeat counterclockwise.

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