Although some exercisers claim to never stretch, most top athletes continue to incorporate stretching into their post-workout routine. As well as being the perfect way to relax your body after exercise, stretching helps you check in with your body and can alert you to ‘overuse’ injuries before they become a problem.
The short answer is that we don’t know for sure. However, most studies only look at the short-term benefits of stretching, so it’s difficult to measure how stretching affects long-term flexibility. What we do know is that people who are inflexible are more prone to injury. We also know that people are living longer, and those who can avoid degenerative joint diseases as they age are likely to have a better quality of life. Research confirms that most people feel better after stretching post-exercise, so whether you’re interested in the short-term or long-term benefits, it’s worth fitting stretching into your regular workout schedule.
The most popular form of post workout stretching is static stretching, which involves holding an extended muscle at its maximum point for around 30 seconds. Post workout is the ideal time to stretch, because a warm muscle is more pliable and less likely to be injured while you stretch it.
Another effective form of stretching is Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF), which is best done under the guidance of a qualified instructor. Ask your trainer for guidance if you want to try some PNF stretches.
To ensure that you get your stretching time in, program 10 minutes of stretching for every hour of exercise. Studies indicate that 30 seconds is the optimal time to hold a stretch. Repeat each stretch two to three times.
Often your body will tell you where it wants to be stretched, but every full body workout should include the following stretches.
NB: Some people like to lean over the extended leg to increase the stretch, but pushing back on the bony part on the front of your hip and bending the supporting leg also stretches the hamstring without risking injury to the lower back.