Colleen Theissen (on the table) and Lauren Van Laethem, exercise specialists at Carolinas Rehabilitation, demonstrate the proper way to perform a hamstring stretch with a partner.

Your Health | 2 months ago

Are You Stretching the Right Way?

Finding yourself sore hours and days after working out? Make sure you’re following these tips from our staff at Carolinas Rehabilitation to ensure you’re properly warming up and cooling down your muscles.

Stretching should be easy right? Simply extend a limb of your body until it feels uncomfortable, hold it for a few seconds then bring it back. Repeat a few times and you’re ready to run, jump, hurdle, tackle, pirouette and swing. 

If you’re doing it correctly, then yes. However, many of us leave much to be desired when it comes to stretching before a workout. And this could lead to pain, poor performance or injury. 

But with a little coaching from Lauren Van Laethem and Colleen Theissen, exercise specialists at Carolinas Rehabilitation, you can learn how to create a solid stretching routine that can help prepare your body to be more flexible for your next workout.

(Re)Building the Foundation

For many of us, what we learned about stretching is patchworked from a variety of sources – old lessons taught in physical education classes in school, what we did participating on a sports team, what we gleaned from others by watching and learning at the gym or in exercise classes or that one friend that seems to know everything about every muscle group. 

Some of this may be good information but it might also be mixed in with bad or outdated knowledge. The aerobics trend that tore through the 1980s and ‘90s, for example, may have emphasized the bouncing stretch too much – which can have little to no effect. Other stretches may be beneficial in theory but poor technique may render them less impactful. 

“Bad technique can lead to injury. Also, certain small changes in position can affect how well the muscle is stretched. Sometimes improper positions can actually stretch the wrong muscles. For example, many people that attempt to stretch the hamstrings, by reaching for their toes, bend in the back and only stretch the back muscles,” Theissen says. “The correct technique is bending at the hip to target the hamstrings.” 

To improve your body’s flexibility, Van Laethem says the preferred method before a workout is to perform dynamic stretching – this is stretching that is actively moving muscles through a range of motion to bring flow to the area to prepare the muscle for more intense exercises. Examples of dynamic stretching are walking lunges, leg swings and inchworms. 

After a workout, static stretching can help your body recover and maintain its flexibility between workouts. Static stretching is a stretch that is performed without moving and held for a period of time (usually 15-30 seconds) and repeated 3-5 times on each body part that is being stretched. 

“Stretching before and after a workout helps with warming up and cooling down the muscle tissue,” Theissen says. “What matters most is the type of stretching performed.” 

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends “that stretching activities be done at least two days per week. If you have lost some joint motion or feel stiff, range of motion or stretching activities should be done daily.”

A Lifetime of Benefits

The nice little truth about stretching is this: You don’t have to be an athlete, trainer or guru to reap the rewards. If you’re new to incorporating stretching into your daily or every-other-daily routine, there may be a learning curve for some, but Van Laethem says that’s OK and to be expected. 

Working at Carolinas Rehabilitation, Van Laethem and Theissen see a lot of patients with difficult injuries that severely limit their range of motion and ability to perform everyday tasks. 

 “We see a lot of traumatic injuries – spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, strokes, among other neurological injuries as well.” Theissen says. “With these types of injuries, we see a dramatic loss of strength and flexibility, secondary to effects of the injuries. We incorporate stretching – both dynamic and static, into our workout routines to decrease their pain and improve their mobility and functionality. We see the benefits when our patients tell us they feel so much better after coming in."

Your Body is Talking to You: Pay Attention

Our bodies are incredibly smart, Van Laethem says. When something is off-balance or misaligned, we will overcompensate in other ways to minimize the impact it has on the rest of the body. 

 “Be aware of the difference between regular muscle soreness and a lingering problem,” she says. “If it doesn’t feel normal, visit your primary care physician. You may be referred for an evaluation with a physical therapist.”

Van Laethem and Theissen’s ultimate goal is to help each patient determine what their capabilities were pre-injury and see if they can get them back to that level – or when possible – improve upon their previous functionality.

“We want to be able to help each person in their journey through rehabilitation, with the ultimate goal of regaining their quality of life post-injury,” Van Laethem says.


The Best Whole Body Dynamic Stretching Warmup

1. Lunge with a twist (10 repetitions for each leg)

2. Knee to chest tucks (10 repetitions for each side)

3. Straight Leg kicks (10 repetitions for each side)

 4. Inch worm (Walk your hands out to plan and back to forward bend – 10 repetitions)

 

5. Squat with arm swing (10 repetitions)

The Best Whole Body Static Stretching Cooldown

Each static stretch should be held for 15-30 seconds and repeated 3-5 times.

Bent over hamstring stretch

Quadricep stretch

Low lunge

Side body stretch

 Doorway pec stretch

 

Learn more about Carolinas Rehabilitation’s many programs, services and support groups.