As the temperatures continue to warm and the sun draws us outdoors, many people in the Rogue Valley are tuning up their exercise programs. You'll see runners, ball players, cyclists and tennis players all preparing for their activities with a stretch.
The benefits of a proper stretching routine are undeniable: increased flexibility and range of motion, better circulation, stress relief, improved coordination, injury prevention and even reduced pain. But there is some debate about when stretching should be incorporated into exercise.
"There is a lot of controversy about the best kind, timing, and even to do or not to do," says Debbie Richter, owner of Southern Oregon Pilates in Medford. "Part of the reason for that is that there is a different answer depending on your individual goal... Effective methods of stretching differ with different goals."
William Macy, director of Avamere Health & Fitness Club in Medford, agrees. "It's got to be specific to their situation." Your goals, your body and your mindset will all play a part in determining the best stretching techniques for you.
There is a misconception, says Dr. Surya Bolom, an Ashland-based chiropractor and yoga instructor, that stretching is all about your muscles. "Really stretching involves some letting go. It makes your arterial system more flexible, it opens up your breathing."
It also gets the fluid around your joints flowing as your body moves.
One of the difficulties Bolom sees people having is "they don't relax." Stretching against cold or tense muscles can actually cause injury, says Macy, which can lead to more serious injuries during intense activity. Other common stretching mistakes include bouncing or overextending your range of motion, jerking, moving too quickly or holding your breath.
Timing counts, too. Research has been demonstrating that the best time for stretching is after you've been moving for awhile.
"You need a vigorous warm-up before stretching," says Macy. "The most effective time to stretch is at the end of your activity. You can spend five minutes and get intense benefit at the end of your workout when it's integrated with everything prior."
Richter agrees, "Movement warms the muscles prior to stretching to allow for a more effective stretch."
The key, say all three, is to stay aware of your body.
"The more you feel what's going on, the better your gain," says Bolom.
"I really try to impress 'body awareness' " agrees Richter. "Take a minute and feel your body prior to the stretch, move slowly into a stretch and pay attention to how it feels. A stretch is just that ... a stretch. You should feel looser, more limber and lighter when you are done, not hurting or tighter."
"For some people it's intuitive; some people need an expert," says Bolom.
"We always recommend at least one consultation with a certified trainer," says Macy. "Biomechanically, there are little flaws we can catch and correct."
Many health clubs or trainers offer classes or a free initial consultation that may help you improve your stretching techniques.
"Having experienced eyes guide and watch you will help you to find the right stretching form and style to help you reach your goals ... whether those are performance or everyday-living oriented," adds Richter.
With the right stretching techniques and attention to your body, it won't be such a stretch to maintain your fitness program through the summer and beyond.
And, reminds Bolom, "That's where the pleasure is."