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A basic guide to stretching

Jogger doing stretching on a beachThere are lots of differing opinions when it comes to stretching pre and post workout. Some experts think it’s more important to warm-up and stretch before working out, and some experts think it’s more beneficial after working out, and then there’s even a minority who think that warming up and cooling down doesn’t really matter at all.

The latter really are in the minority, even more so if you’re planning a high intensity workout such as Tabata.

Warming up the muscles before exercise makes them suppler and therefore less prone to injury. However by warming up we don’t mean stretching, or not at first anyway. Stretching before exercise (without warming up first) can result in less resistance of your Central Nervous System (CNS) during exercise which can lead to injury. Your CNS is needed to act as that much needed natural resistance by stimulating rival muscles when flexed to prevent them from being over-stretched and tear your conjunctive tissues.

Whereas stretching out the muscles after exercise is recommended to help dispel the build up of waste products and lactic acid. It’s also thought it reduces next-day stiffness, but again there are many disputes over this too.

If you take part in exercise classes, such as our online Tabata Training classes, your instructor will normally take you through a series of warm-up exercises and stretching cool-down exercises.

But if you’re exercising on your own, or for some reason your instructor doesn’t take you through these steps, make sure you use the Static Stretching technique.

The Static Stretching technique is stretching as far as is comfortable for you and then holding that position for between 10 and 20 seconds before releasing. Don’t bounce or pull beyond your comfort level as that is more likely to cause harm than good.

A quick guide to stretching

For those of you who will be stretching without an instructor, here are the basic guidelines to follow to stretch safely:

  1. Make sure you are in a comfortable relaxed position before stretching.
  2. During each stretch keep your breathing natural – don’t hold it!
  3. Enter and exit each stretch slowly.
  4. If standing during your stretch ensure that all your joints are aligned i.e. shoulders above your hips, hips above your knees and knees above your ankles.
  5. Don’t bounce a stretch or pull beyond what’s comfortable – this can result in injury.
  6. After warming up by skipping rope or jogging on the spot for 5 minutes, loosely stretch the muscles for around 10 seconds before starting the main part of your workout.
  7. The cool down stretches should last around 20 seconds for each muscle.
  8. Work logically. Always start at the top and work down, or from the bottom and work up.
  9. Don’t go back to muscles once you’ve stretched them out as they may have already cooled down and you could cause yourself an injury.
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