For years, athletes and gym rats have been told to warm up and stretch before working out. While this is good advice, it is more important to stretch after working out, according to Richard Owens, fitness director at the AtlantiCare LifeCenter in Egg Harbor Township. Owens says while each workout should be preceded by a warm up - which can include light stretching - failing to stretch after a workout is a "recipe for disaster."
When you warm up first, you increase both your body temperature and the blood flow to your muscles. The muscles can then be more easily stretched. While you train, however, your muscles contract and blood flow slows. Stretching after you have completed a again increases blood flow to the muscles, and repairs the contraction caused by the workout.
Stretching after your workout limits post workout muscle soreness, helps to prevent the possibility of injury from the workout and makes your next workout just a little bit easier.
Wanda Hackler, a
62-year-old Egg Harbor Township resident who trains at the LifeCenter, knows the difference.
"If you stretch, you don't hurt the next day and can do more and have more energy," Hackler said.
Increased flexibility, the goal of any stretching program, accounts for the benefits Hackler describes. As Owens says, "...whether you are just starting a workout program or are an elite athlete, the more flexible you are, the easier your life is." Also, Owens said a regular stretching program helps delay the aging process by helping your muscles and skin retain their elasticity.
Knowing when and the reasons to stretch are important; knowing how to stretch is critical. You do not have to hold a stretch for 10 seconds or more. Owens says this approach is outdated because it does not account for differences in individuals. He instead suggests each stretch be "uncomfortable but not painful," and should be held until you feel the muscle relax, or release. If you maintain a regular stretching program your flexibility will improve and as it does, it will take less time for the muscle to relax or release.
An effective stretching regimen should take five to 10 minutes and focus on your hamstrings, quadriceps, chest, back, triceps and biceps.
It is not necessary to stretch the various body parts in any particular order, so long as you save at least five minutes at the end of your workout to stretch. Owens says that "...a workout is not complete without stretching." It is a critical part of any complete fitness program and not only improves flexibility but also helps prevent injuries.