Stretching is great for your health. Here’s how to do more of it

The Dose22:59Why should I stretch regularly?

As a former competitive gymnast, Christie Misketis is no stranger to the importance of stretching. 

She credits routine stretching with improving her overall form and flexibility. 

“I can kind of attest to the specificity of stretching and increasing mobility and keeping me in the sport as long as I was.”

Experts say stretching isn’t simply essential for competitive athletes or as a pre-workout activity. Routine stretching can improve overall mobility and strength, while also keeping the body well-lubricated and nimble. 

David Behm is a university research professor at the school of human kinetics and recreation at Memorial University of Newfoundland. (Submitted by David Behm)

Human kinetics and recreation professor David Behm says stretching influences muscle strength, cardiovascular health, and even pain management in some cases. 

“If we can increase our range of motion and make our tissues more elastic, it’s going to increase our movement efficiency,” said Behm, a university research professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in an interview with The Dose host Dr. Brian Goldman. 

What are some beginner stretches? 

Doing a forward lunge is one of the easiest ways to get stretching, according to Behm.

Take one step forward, position the forward leg so the knee is at a 90-degree angle, lean forward as much as is comfortable and keep the back leg straight. 

“That stretch itself would stretch your quadriceps, the front of your leg, your gluteal muscles, your butt muscles, your hamstrings, and if you did it to the side, or even at a 45-degree angle, you would stretch your groin muscle,” said Behm.

In-place forward lunges are a kind of static stretch — one of the two main classifications of stretches. 

Laura Lundquist crosses her arms while smiling at the camera.
Laura Lundquist is registered physiotherapist and owner of Zoomers Physiotherapy in Halifax, Spring Physiotherapy in Dartmouth, N.S., and Club Z fitness for boomers. (Submitted by Laura Lundquist)

Nova Scotia-based physiotherapist Laura Lundquist says static stretches are single positions that are held for a prolonged amount of time — anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes in the case of stretching-based activities like yoga or tai chi. 

Static stretches help increase the body’s range of movement, reduce overall stiffness and help reduce muscle strain injuries, she said.

Chin tucks are another kind of static stretch that Misketis says desk-workers can do to unwind their posture. 

Move your chin towards your chest, hold that position for a few seconds, and then move the chin forward again. 

In contrast to static stretches, dynamic stretches move muscles and joints through their “full available range,” Lundquist said, adding that those stretches are typically done to prepare for physical activity. 

“If you were getting ready to play pickleball, you’d want to make sure that your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and all of the muscles attached to them, were able to move through all the positions required for sport participation.”

Behm says static stretching can be further divided into passive and active categories. 

Passive static stretches involve someone else moving your body into a stretched position, whereas active stretches are movements carried out on our own. 

Behm added that there’s a third category of stretching called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). 

PNF involves both passive static stretching — aided by another person or with the use of a stretch band — as well as contracting a muscle. 

“You’re going to end up with more elasticity and you’d get a greater range of motion,” Behm said. 

Research suggests PNF stretching is effective in improving and maintaining range of motion, as well as increasing muscle strength and athletic performance. 

Activities like yoga and tai chi — which incorporate stretching and breathing — are also easy ways to turn stretching into a primary physical activity. 

What’s the safest way to stretch? 

Regardless of which form of stretching is used, most experts agree that the best way to stretch is based on people’s natural limits, and doesn’t push past “the point of initial discomfort,” Behm said.

“We can go to our point of maximum discomfort … and that’s going to increase your range of motion,” he said.

“Maybe [Novak] Djokovic needs to do that or Simone Biles, the gymnast, but the average person can just go to the point of initial discomfort when they just start to feel some tension and then hold it there.” 

While stretching can be effective throughout the day, Lundquist says many people find that an end-of-day stretching routine is a “nice way to literally and figuratively unwind from the stresses of the day.”

“It can be helpful to get us into that rest and relaxation mode and maybe even help promote a good night’s sleep,” she said. 

Neck stretches and the child’s pose yoga position are stretches that can help the body relax before bed

As for where to stretch, Misketis says firm, flat surfaces and comfortable, cushioned surfaces both have their advantages. 

“If you are supported in the position that you are stretching in — especially if you have mobility constraints that are keeping you from getting down on the floor — stretching in bed or a comfy surface is totally fine,” she said. 

People who already have a strained or injured muscle should give their bodies time to recover before stretching again. 

WATCH | Goat yoga takes downward dog to another level:

Goat yoga takes downward dog to another level

Sometimes, disruptions are welcomed in a workout. About 50 people took their mats to the barn for a unique experience: goat yoga. The CBC’s Amy Hadley checked out the event, which was a fundraiser for Murillo Mutts and the Townline Equestrian Centre just outside of Thunder Bay. Dates in March are sold out, but they are taking names for events in April.

To see health benefits, most people can stretch every day without worrying about causing muscle pain or injury, Behm says.

“That doesn’t mean that everybody needs to stretch everyday,” he said. “You can still get an increase in range of motion if you stretch one or two times a week.”

Nonetheless, Behm recommends stretching between three to six times a week, holding poses for at least five seconds at a time.

“Five seconds of stretching increases range of motion,” he said. 

“Thirty seconds would be better. But if you say, ‘I don’t have time to stretch.’ Well, come on, you’ve got five seconds.”

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