Stretching for a few minutes just a few times a week, can help decrease your risk for injury and increase your ability to move more freely.
When you’re committed eating a healthy diet and getting exercise on a regular basis, the last thing you may want to do is add stretching to your weekly to-do list. However, by stretching for a few minutes at least two times each week, you can help decrease your risk for injury and increase your ability to move in an optimal manner.
“The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching activities two days per week, minimum, for the average adult,” said Janelle Dorangricchia, fitness and personal training supervisor at Saint Mary’s Fitness Center. “Now, keep in mind, that is the minimum. This really does depend on each individual and their needs — for some, even daily may be best.”
Whether you choose to make time for stretching every day or commit to the recommended minimum of twice per week, there may be certain muscles that tend to be tight and need to take priority in your stretch sessions.
“A few muscles that may need some extra attention include the hamstrings, hip flexors, pectoral muscles and upper back muscles, particularly the trapezius,” said Dorangricchia, who has a bachelor’s degree in health ecology and is certified as a personal trainer. “These muscles become tight often when seated for long durations each day and from poor posture.”
When it comes to deciding whether to stretch right before or after exercising or to set aside time for a stand-alone stretch session, Dorangricchia said this is an ongoing debate in the fitness world.
“It will not cause harm to stretch before exercising, but it is best if the stretches executed are more of a dynamic warm-up, moving the muscles and joints through their full range of motion rather than static hold stretches,” she said. “Static hold techniques will work best when the muscles are warm, such as after exercise.”
Another guideline for setting up a stretch schedule is to make sure you stay consistent and commit to making it happen on a regular basis.
“Many times, people are on a tight schedule and have budgeted time for their workout or other activities, but not for their stretching activities — it often gets neglected,” Dorangricchia said. “To see or feel improvements in flexibility, a person needs to be consistent in their efforts.”
As for the benefits of making time to stretch, Dorangricchia said these can span the spectrum from better posture and injury prevention to less stiffness and greater range of motion.
“Most important, though, is mobility,” she said. “Being able to perform activities of daily living and stay moving through a lifetime encompasses all the benefits of stretching.”
If you are unsure how to perform proper stretches, Dorangricchia suggests making an appointment with a physical therapist or certified personal trainer or enrolling in a class that teaches methods of stretching.
“Do not wait until an injury occurs to begin stretching regularly,” she said. “Anyone and everyone will benefit from participating in some type of stretching activity on a regular basis.”