Static stretching is hugely beneficial for muscle recovery, but you can't benefit from it if you're not doing it or just doing it incorrectly. Maybe you are using static stretches but it's possible that your timing is poor. Did you know that grade schools often teach stretching to be incorporated before a practice or competition? Society is set in this belief when they start working out on their own.
Let's get educated about static stretching and give you a better idea of how to incorporate its use.
What are Static Stretches?
Static stretches are when you take a portion of your body and move into a position where joints, muscles, and tendons are placed into a stretch (aka pull). This stretch is static, which means no further movement is made until releasing the stretch from its position.
Static stretching can provide the following benefits:
Postural imbalances may improve through routine static stretching
Increase joint range of motion to prevent injury.
Improve blood circulation to muscles improving recovery.
Muscle stiffness and tightness relief.
May reduce effects created from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
Static stretches should be held for approximately 10-30 seconds depending on your flexibility level, and a total of 3x for each stretch for proper recovery. Doing 1x set for each stretch is fine if you're short on time, but if you have the time - do more sets! Pro Tip: DO NOT bounce during the stretch!
When not to Perform Static Stretching?
As mentioned there are improper times to execute this type of stretching that may cause injury instead of improvement. Evidence shows that performing static stretches prior to intense training or competition reduces muscular strength, which is why it’s better to perform dynamic stretches (jumping jacks etc.) or a general warm up like light cardio.
Another bad time is before your muscles are warmed up. This is something that most people are guilty of when it comes to static stretching. Doing this could damage muscle fibers and actually cause an uncomfortable and painful muscle strain.
In order to reduce these risks, you should consider performing a 5-10 minute warmup prior to engaging in static stretches. How do you accomplish this task? Simply jump rope, jog, or perform mountain climbers for a cardio-based warmup. Bodyweight squats and pushups work well for strength based warming up.
The intent is not to get a workout in, but rather to get your muscles and joints warmed up to allow static stretches the ability to accomplish the benefits they were intended to. All of this while preventing injury.
Utilizing Static Stretches for Muscle Recovery
Muscle recovery is something very much desired by athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Proper recovery not only relieves the stiffness and soreness but also makes room for better muscle growth.
Let’s clarify though that DOMS is not preventable. If you use your muscles more than they normally would be used on a daily basis; then your muscles are probably going to be sore for a bit. Microscopic muscles tears occur when you train at even higher intensities.
Static stretches also improve recovery because they increase blood flow to your muscle cells, and this improved flow draws in more nutrients to support protein synthesis. Simply put, protein synthesis is when your body uses digested protein to repair damaged protein cells in muscles.
The following static stretches are simple to perform and support recovery:
Chest Stretch – Place hands together behind back and slowly raise hands together to begin feeling the tension.
Shoulder Stretch – Lace fingers together in front of the body. Twist wrists to push palms facing outwards. Slowly raise hands over head and hold the stretch.
Triceps Stretch – Extend arms overhead and lower one hand down bending at the elbow but keeping it in place. Place palm in the middle of your upper back and use your other hand to pull the elbow for a better stretch.
Lower Back Stretch –Lie on your back and extend your legs out. Slowly pull both knees into your chest while keeping your shoulder and back against the floor.
Groin Stretch – Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width and slowly squat down. Place your arms between your legs and push them against your inner thighs. Push legs back inwards against the force of your arms.
Hamstring Stretch – Place both feet together and slowly lower your upper body down trying to touch finger tips to your toes. Don't force it and just allow gravity to pull your upper body down naturally for a deeper stretch.
Quadriceps Stretch – You may need a stable support that is hip high to achieve this static stretch. Kick your foot back, bending at the knee and grabbing the top of your foot with your hand. The other leg should have a slight bend in knee and hand on a stable support to keep balance.
Calf Stretch – Find a stable wall and lean with both hands on the wall with one foot in front of the other by taking a step forward. The other leg should remain straight and both heels are planted firmly on the ground. Lean forward for a better stretch against calf.
If you’re experiencing intense muscle stiffness or cramps following a workout this could be DOMS mixed with nutrient deficiencies. This is why a lot of people consume plenty of coconut water, green veggies, and bananas as they all contain high amounts of micronutrients, especially minerals which aid in recovery.
Quality supplements such as Vital 4U’s multivitamins can alleviate this by ensuring that your body has enough nutrients to match your physical lifestyle. Of course, you still need to eat a well-rounded diet and a good multivitamin supplement covers the rest of your needs and fills in the gaps.
Perform static stretches properly and consume enough nutrients for better muscle recovery.