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I've been going to aerobics classes since I was at school and always done the stretches at the beginning and the end and I've suddenly realised I have no idea why? Is it to stop your muscles becoming stiff the next day? And how much should stretch - until you feel a pull, or as much as you can bear?
Stretching can increase your flexibility. That may well be useful, however yoga standalone may be better.
Stretching appears to do nothing to prevent stiffness on subsequent days - it was once thought to be the case, but modern trials have never managed to find a difference. However it's probably a good time to do it to increase flexibility as you will be warmed up and not likely to do any further exercise after.
Static stretching before exercise is probably a bad idea in most events, it's been shown to increase injuries and worsen performance - a warm up appropriate to the activity (so e.g. if you're playing football, a run and a few kicks of balls)
Yes, I believe stretching beforehand is a bad idea as you're cold, stiff and most likely to pull something. So i just start running by jogging slowly. Afterwards can help counter the effect of repeated movement in one direction and feels good.
When I did my fitness instructors qualification (years ago now) we were taught to do a substantial warm up, a stretch and then start the class and then cool down stretch at the end.
I believe now the stretching at the begining has been deemed as next to useless hence a lot of classes dont do it.......however, you should always stretch at the end of the class/exercise.
When you exercise your muscles shorten and so if you dont stretch and lengthen them back out you would gradually lose the range of movement. Ever seen a body builder walking about looking like a triangle with really stiff shoulders??? He/she doesnt stretch out after doing his/her weights.
You should also hold the stretches for a bit longer after exercising too....it's called developmental stretching and again is for lengthening back out the muscles.
You should stretch until you feel a pull, not so much that the muscle starts shaking, but just before that point. Hold, breathe, try to relax and don't bounce. After about 10 secs try and increase the stretch a little. Hold a static stretch for at least 30 secs.
Thank you for that - it's really helpful to know the reason why we do these things! And yes, being more flexible will help. My classes do the warm up then the stretch, so I think I'm ok with that, but it's also good to know that it's a no-no before you start at all.
If you are stretching as part of the warm up the stretches should be dynamic. So eg runners should include some strides. However care must be taken for these not to turn into ballistic? stretches that can then cause damage (remember stretching and then 'bouncing' it further when we were kids? That can cause injury).
The reason warm up stretches should not be static is that a) you stop moving and the body starts cooling down again and b) warming up is shortening the muscles and stretching is lengthening them (I think I'm remembering that latter one slightly wrongly) so some people do omit warm up stretches (I don't, if anything they help me 'feel' my body and are part of my mental prep).
I believe cool down stretches will only return your muscles to normal length if held for 10secs and improve your muscle length if held for 30s. So every time you don't stretch after exercise you end up slightly more hunched / cramped in daily life.