Stretching is often touted as an important part of a well-rounded exercise program. Yet, there’s a lot of misinformation that circulates about the practice. For instance, you may have heard:
- You won’t benefit unless you hold a stretch for a while.
- You shouldn’t bounce while stretching, or you could tear a muscle.
- If you fail to stretch before a workout, you’ll injure yourself.
These are actually myths, and in fact, you may wonder whether you really need to stretch at all.
Stretching: The True Story
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), you should be stretching major muscle groups at least twice a week for 60 seconds per exercise. Stretching can help you stay flexible, supporting better mobility not only now but later in life, too.
For instance, if your back is stiff and sore from staying at your desk during the workday, a stretch such as a cat/cow (getting on all fours then slowly arching and curving your back upwards) can help to reverse some of the effects of staying seated for so long.
With that said, you don’t have to stretch for long periods of time just to get the benefits. Static stretches are meant to last 15 to 30 seconds, while dynamic stretches (in which you move through the stretches) are effective too—especially when completed as part of a warmup routine. Static stretching before a workout has not been shown to prevent injury, enhance performance, or reduce post-workout muscle soreness. Static stretches might even weaken performance because they can tire your muscles. On the other hand, dynamic stretches such as leg swings and walking lunges could help warm the body up before exercise.
Static stretches should therefore be reserved for post-workout. You’ll be more flexible since you’ve been moving your muscles and joints consistently. With that said, if you enjoy doing stretches other times throughout the day—besides when you normally do your workout—there’s no harm in working them in when it’s most convenient for you.
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