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Stretching: Static or Dynamic?

Even if you’re not a yoga aficionado, pretty much everyone knows how good stretching can feel. Whether it’s that first stretch after waking up in the morning or that epic stretch after working for too long at the computer, stretching relaxes muscles, releases tension, and makes us feel better. It makes sense to think, “Hey, I like stretching! I should do more of that!” If you want to incorporate stretching into your daily life and reap benefits like increased agility, reduced risk of injury, and improved circulation, you’ve made a great decision. But where do you start?

There are two types of stretches – static and dynamic. Static stretches are performed while the body is at rest. You extend to a point of gentle tightness (not pain!) and hold the stretch. As the body relaxes, you will gradually be able to reach farther into the stretch. Dynamic stretches are movements designed to ease your body into its full range of motion (think alternating toe touches). As your muscles and joints become increasingly warm, you will gradually feel loose, limber, and ready for activity. Following an easy warm-up of 5-10 minutes of walking or jogging, dynamic stretches are typically performed before a workout, while static stretches are best done afterwards as part of your cool down.

Some examples of dynamic stretches are:

Lunges – Take a long (but not uncomfortable) stride and lower yourself down until your front knee is bent at a 90 degree angle and your back knee touching the floor. Step back up and alternate sides, repeating several times.
Arm Circles – Swing your arms forward in a full circle for 20-30 seconds, then reverse and go backwards.
Trunk Rotations – Standing with your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, put your hands on your hips and twist 90 degrees to the right, then back to facing front, and twist 90 degrees to the left. Repeat several times.

Some examples of static stretches are:

Quadriceps Stretch – Standing next to a doorway, chair, or other object for safety (should you need assistance with your balance), bend your right leg up and behind you until your foot is near your buttocks. Reach behind and grab your foot with both hands and pull upwards until you feel a gentle tightness in your quadriceps (front thigh muscle). Hold for 30-60 seconds, then switch sides.
Shoulder/Arm Stretch – Bring your right arm across your chest, pulling it close with your left hand until you feel gentle tightness in your arm and shoulder. Hold for 30-60 seconds, then switch sides.
Cobra Pose – Lying face down on the ground, bring your hands up so they are just below your shoulders and push your upper body off the ground until you feel a gentle tightness in your abdominal and back muscles. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

Lastly, here are a couple of tips to help you avoid injury and get the most out of your stretching, regardless of which type you’re doing:

Always warm-up before you stretch. This will increase blood flow to your muscles and help them cope with what you are asking. Trying to stretch “cold” muscles is never a good idea.
Stretching should never hurt. Go only to the point of gentle tightness – if it hurts, you’ve gone too far.
Start slow. Like all aspects of fitness, it takes time to build flexibility. Trying to do too much too soon is a sure-fire way to become injured.

There are so many benefits to stretching – not the least of which is that you can do it practically anywhere. If you’re looking for an easy way to feel better every day, follow these tips for safe and effective stretching. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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