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NEWS | March 15, 2011

Stretching your way to a better PT performance

By Laura Allard Joint Base Charleston - Weapons Station personal trainer

Stretching is something we should all do. It increases flexibility, improves circulation and enhances coordination. But when and what type of stretching should be done?

There are two categories of stretching; dynamic and static. In short, dynamic stretching should be done before a workout, and static stretching or Active Isolated Stretching afterwards.

Static stretching involves gently holding a stretch for about 30 seconds, one time per muscle being stretched. AIS stretching is similar, but uses the principle that when one muscle contracts, its opposing muscle relaxes. To stretch a hamstring using AIS for example, lay on your back, lift your leg up unassisted as far as possible and then use your hands or a stretch strap to pull it just a little further, holding that position for one to two seconds. Then, lower your leg all the way back down and repeat this movement about eight times.

So, why do we end our workouts with stretching rather than at the beginning? Think of the muscles as sticks of gum. Before working out, a muscle is like gum that's been in the freezer. It's cool and stiff and trying to stretch it will be difficult and even damaging. After working out, a muscle is like gum being chewed - all warm and malleable. This is when the muscle is most receptive to motion and pulling and will benefit from static stretching or AIS.

Many exercisers warm-up for a few minutes and then static stretch before working out. Is this bad since the "gum" is now chewed and no longer in the freezer? From the standpoint of the safety of the muscle, no, but in terms of up-coming workout performance, it is. Static stretching is essentially telling the muscles to "shut off," to release and relax, which is the opposite of what the muscles should do before a workout. Static stretching before exercise only makes the up-coming physical activity harder on the body.

Dynamic stretching prepares the body for its up-coming workout by raising the body's core temperature and getting the muscles ready to work. The Navy's new physical training program, Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling Series, divides dynamic stretching into two parts: pillar preparation and movement preparation. Pillar refers to hips, torso and shoulders, and is the foundation of all movements. Pillar preparation is designed to "turn on" the muscles in this area, helping to protect, stabilize and strengthen the muscles during the workout. Movement preparation continues the warming-up process which involves movements that imitate those for the upcoming exercise, including multi-directional movement.

Whether or not you use the Navy's dynamic warm-up or your own, it's an ideal way to start your workout. A good static stretch following a workout helps ensure you maximize your fitness benefits. In addition to relaxing tense, tight muscles, stretching also increases blood flow to the muscle which brings nourishment as well as rids the body of waste products in the muscle tissue. This is excellent for workout recovery.

So the next time you work out, choose the appropriate stretch for the task, and if you have any questions, ask a trainer. We're here to help.