Stretching. We all know we should do it. It feels great and after we do it, we feel even better! So why don’t we stretch more and why do we need to stretch anyway? The other day in class I mentioned how it’s nice to see everyone at buffaloBARRE® stays for the stretching at the end of class. Then I asked, “Why?” Everybody looked at me as if to say “because you’re telling us to do this!?” but one person said, “this is the best part!” Interesting because so much of the planning of our classes goes into the actual choreography of the class, not the last 5 minutes of “cool down.” As a physical therapist, it made me smile knowing that everyone enjoyed it and seemed to understand why it’s good for them to stay for the last 5 minutes of class to stretch. I’ve been trying to get people to stretch more for years and if I’m being truthful, this includes trying to get myself to stretch more! I wonder why we often feel the need to replace 5 minutes of stretching with an extra 5 minutes of cardio or lifting when stretching before, during and after working out has so many proven benefits. Perhaps it’s because we live in such a fast-paced society that we feel like we don’t have time to stretch and need to use that time to burn a few more calories or maybe we just simply don’t feel like it. I think for most of us, it’s hard to slow down. We have to train our bodies and minds to do it just like we train our bodies and minds to get stronger, go faster, or whatever it is we’re trying to achieve athletically. Many years ago, I had a 90 year old patient who came to me for a minor injury. She was the most spry and energetic 90 year old I ever met. When I asked her what the secret to her good health was, she told me she started every day with a series of stretches. I asked her to show them to me and I was amazed! In addition to being the most spry and energetic 90 year old, she was also the most flexible 90 year old I ever met! Some stretches were static, some were dynamic. We tweaked some of them but overall, she had a great routine that she practiced for years and I wasn’t going to interrupt a 90 year old’s routine too much. It was how she got her body moving every day and I’m sure it helped her mentally prepare for her day too. When I see this photo, I think of her! So let’s talk about different types of stretching, the benefits of stretching, what stretching was actually doing for her and how you can benefit from stretching too.
Types of Stretching: There are many types of stretching! At buffaloBARRE® we focus on these:
- Active Stretching: Stretching without use of props or any type of assistance.
- Active Assisted Stretching: Stretching with use of outside assistance such as a prop like tubing to gain further range of motion.
- Passive Stretching: Stretching that comes from an outside force such as when an instructor offers their assistance and takes you through your stretch a little further.
- Dynamic Stretching: Stretching usually performed before an activity or class that involves taking multiple muscle groups through controlled movements and full range of motion such as in our “warm up.” Think plies, releves and battements!
- Static Stretching: Stretching that takes you to full range of motion and is held for a sustained period of time, usually around 15-30 seconds. Think “cool down” stretches like hamstring and “figure 4” stretching.
- It decreases stress and relaxes you. Stress can cause tight muscles and stretching will improve blood flow to those muscles, relax them, create a sense of tranquility and a release of endorphins.
- Stretching improves your posture. By stretching tight musculature around your joints and spine you are restoring their length to their naturally desired position and length. Studies show stretching will allow you to avoid slouching which is a natural response to discomfort caused by inflexibility and/or weakness of muscles. About a year after starting barre, I “grew” a whole inch! My doctor was so surprised that she measured me a few more times to make sure she was correct and then asked me what I doing because obviously I wasn’t still “growing!”
- One of the most obvious benefits is that stretching improves flexibility. Improved flexibility leads to greater range of motion of your muscles and joints so you require less energy to move through these motions. This improves your performance and…
- Decreases the likelihood of injury during your workouts or even just your normal activities of daily living!
- Stretching improves your endurance. With stretching, you’re increasing the blood flow to your muscles which ensures that oxygen is getting to your muscles. This improves your overall endurance. If you want to increase your stamina, stretch dynamically first.
- Stretching before, during and after exercising can assist with the effects of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.) DOMS, sometimes referred to as “muscle fever,” typically occurs 24-48 hours after a good workout. Remember trying to sit on a toilet the day after your first barre class? That’s DOMS. Although stretching hasn’t been scientifically proven to decrease DOMS, (surprising, right? Check out several studies like this ) stretching will improve the blood flow to your muscles to aid in restoring them to their natural length, decreasing your risk of injury and improving your overall athleticism. The DOMS is usually just a matter of time so you might just have to walk like a penguin for a few days or less after your first barre class. Why this is good for you is great material for a future blog.
- Studies show that prolonged stretching activities, (think yoga) can decrease your LDL levels, improve your HDL levels and decrease your overall total cholesterol which reduces your risk of heart disease.
- Stretching energizes you. What do you do when you feel like you’re about to fall asleep at your desk? Instead of heading to the break room for another cup of coffee, try standing up and stretching. This will help you “wake up” by improving the blood flow to your muscles and organs, including your brain!
- Stretching decreases blood glucose levels. A study of adults who were diabetic or pre-diabetic and stretched before drinking a sugary beverage showed a greater decrease in blood glucose levels than those who didn’t assume full stretching positions.
- Stretching can improve your balance. A study of college students showed that those who stretched before getting on a stabilometer, a device that measures balance and coordination, were less likely to fall than those who were idle before getting on it.
There are reasons why stretching may not be appropriate for you (broken bones, severe strains, hypermobile joints…) so always check with your physician before starting a stretching routine and find a good physical therapist who can tailor a program for you based on your specific needs!
At buffaloBARRE® we are all trained to help you develop safe stretching techniques based on your individual needs. As Barre, Pilates and Yoga instructors, we witness daily the positive effects of stretching combined with strengthening exercises before, during and after class. Most stretches are not just purely stretching exercises of one muscle group in one plane of motion. You’re using your body weight to strengthen, stabilize and move in multiple planes of motion while stretching so you get all of the benefits noted above in one thoughtfully executed, results driven, time efficient, tailored for your needs, class!
Meet us at buffaloBARRE® where we are “Setting the Barre and Defining a New You!” and let’s start stretching!
Maria McKendry – Physical Therapist, buffaloBARRE® Owner, Creator of the buffaloBARRE® Technique, Certified NSCA Personal Trainer
5843 Transit Rd.
East Amherst, NY 14051