To stretch or not to stretch?
Here at Pilates Connection, our clients are often surprised at how sore they are after embarking on a long walk. If you were going to the gym or on a long run, you may not even question doing a little warm up or cool down, however when it comes to walking, many see this as a “passive” exercise that doesn’t require any stretching. So, the question remains – should we stretch before, after or before and after walking?
Let me first state that when doing research for this article, there are many conflicting studies and reports, with no real general consensus on which combination of stretching will be the best for your body. When it comes to elite athletes who require big bursts of energy for explosive sports like sprinting, athletics, etc, some believe that stretching prior to exercise loosens up the muscles too much and can actually decrease power and performance. However, if you’re a gymnast or dancer that requires flexibility, stretching before hand can have a distinct advantage.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Stretching can help improve flexibility, and, consequently, range of motion in your joints. Better flexibility may improve your performance in physical activities or decrease your risk of injuries by helping your joints move through their full range of motion and enabling your muscles to work most effectively.”
There are two main types of stretching:
- Static stretching: stretching a muscle to the point of mild discomfort and holding in that position for at least 30 seconds
- Dynamic Stretching: performing a gentle repetitive movement but staying inside the normal range of motion (this might be a gentle walk as a warm up for running, or arm swings).
Most research has focused on static stretching, and as mentioned, the jury is still out as to whether stretching before exercise can help prevent injury, and whether it can reduce soreness when done after exercise. So, the moral of the story is – do what ever is right for your body – chances are it’s likely to make you feel better, and is unlikely to do you any harm.
In my personal opinion, most people will benefit from a few good stretches after going on a long walk, which may also help in reducing soreness the following days. Importantly, stretching also allows you to relax, slow down your heart rate and get your body back into balance. Here’s a few stretches I’d recommend at the end of your walk, which should take a total of 5 minutes (click on the link below to see pictures and instructions for each of these stretches:)
- Buttock stretch
- Hamstring stretch
- Inner thigh stretch
- Calf stretch
- Thigh / quad stretch
If you’d like to do some further reading about the various studies on stretching, here are a few articles we’ve come across during our research: