We all have been told to do stretching exercises before and after any physical activity, like a run or a workout. Professional athletes being made to go through their “stretches” by the team physio before a game is a common sight. Yet, one rookie mistake most people make is in not distinguishing between the kind of stretches that need to be done.

The most common kind of stretching that people do is the one where you stretch different body parts while standing or sitting immobile. The body part is stretched as far as it can go, the position is held for a short duration of time before relaxing and bringing it back to its natural state. This form of stretching is called static stretching.

Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, involves stretching while ‘swinging’ the particular body part, thereby bringing momentum to the stretch. An example of a dynamic stretch would be if you were to stand on one leg and swing the other leg front and back, increasing the range of movement slightly with each swing, and taking the leg forward and backward so as to stretch the muscles.

Contrary to popular belief, static stretching actually weakens the muscles and thereby allows them to generate less force. Dynamic stretching gets the blood flowing and increases the heart rate, allowing the body to warm-up. These stretches resemble the kind of movements the body makes while playing a particular sport.

So there is no ‘better’ way to stretch. Instead, there is a correct time for one to perform either a static or a dynamic stretch.

Dynamic stretches are recommended to be done before physical activity, such as a workout or a game of tennis or any other sport. They allow more muscles and joints to get involved in loosening up the muscle. Some examples of dynamic stretching are rotating your joints (wrists, shoulders, neck, trunk, ankles), swinging your arms and your legs, side bends and lunges.

Static stretches should preferably be done after you have finished working out. These stretches help the body to cool down and are equally helpful in preventing injury. Static stretches help to lengthen the tissues which might have tightened during your workout. The ideal length of time to hold a stretch is about 30 seconds.

Doing a combination of dynamic and static stretching will go a long way in maximizing your performance, as well as helping you avoid injury.

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