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How should a proper stretching session look like? How should I warm up or cool down for a stretching training? And how long should they be and what exercises should they exactly consist of?

Should I keep the balance between the exercised muscles or there is no risk in breaking it? I mean, if I do forward bends am I obliged to do backward ones too?

Finally, I would like to stretch a little bit as a break during my work, can I do so? How far then could such a mini session be stripped down from a full one?


Please note :

I do not ask about the stretching part of a warm-up before some non-stretching training like bodybuilding for example.


Update concerning my objectives:

I wanted to start stretching for many quite unrelated reasons. First of all I started to have some problems with joints making cracking sounds (in shoulder and legs) and I have read that stretching that exhausts various ranges of motion could help. Secondly it came to me it would be cool to be able to do a split (which in turn would increase my range of motion in kicking, however this in not the main goal), some hardcore forward bends (like those of yoga, see: 1 or 2 ) and the sitting positions of yoga ( like the lotus pose ).

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For a full explanation as to why you shouldn't do passive stretching before exercise or sports see explainationhttp://fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/2940/daily-stretch-routin‌​e-to-increase-flexibilty-and-overall-fitness –  BackInShapeBuddy Aug 27 '12 at 2:12
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For information about setting up your regular stretching program check out fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/2940/…. To better address your questions please give us an idea of what your goals are for your stretching program: ? increased overall flexibility, injury prevention, goal of stretching at work: postural correction, etc. –  BackInShapeBuddy Aug 27 '12 at 2:32
    
@BackInShapeBuddy That would be mainly injury prevention and increased selective flexibility. I've just updated my question in order to adress it. –  infoholic_anonymous Aug 27 '12 at 17:36
    
Being able to do splits doesn't really have all that much relation to being able to kick higher, honestly. Yes, it's more likely that you could kick higher if you could do splits, but it's a combination of passive flexibility, active flexibility, muscle strength, and technique. I know plenty of people (myself included) that can't do passive front splits, but can achieve front splits on an axe kick. –  JohnP Aug 27 '12 at 19:51
    
@BackInShapeBuddy From your contribution in the link : "Generally you will achieve more motion when the tissue is warmed up". Could you please share your knowledge here with posting, as an answer to my question, some guidelines how to warm [this tissue] up before a stretching routine? Thank you in advance. –  infoholic_anonymous Aug 27 '12 at 22:05

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Here are some ideas for helping you put together a Stretching Program for Injury Prevention:

  • Proper Hydration is a very important component of preparing the body for successful stretching. Shock absorbing tissues like cartilage and fascia require good hydration in order to do their job effectively. Ming Chew covers this well in his book, The Permanent Pain Cure, which addresses the fascia with specific stretches for each body part: spine, shoulders, legs etc. (He is also a martial artist so he may have some information on stretching to improve your kicks, but I don't have the book with me so I can't say for sure.)
  • Stretch Regularly - Once your body is well hydrated, a regular stretching routine for the full body using yoga moves like the cobra or child’s pose will address large muscle groups. Joseph Wiseburg, has a nice 3 minute routine of 6 stretches for 30 seconds each that cover the spine, hip flexors, hamstrings, hip adductors etc. Then just add specific stretches for the specific muscles you want to gain flexibility.

  • Warm-Up for Stretching - Consider the warm up before your stretching program as you would before sports or other exercise workouts. Warm up for the activity considering the muscles that you will be using. Think of warm up as any low load activity that gets your blood flowing into the muscles and gets the synovial fluid lubricating your joints. (For sports of other types of workouts you would also consider your nervous system in your warm up to improve your reactions, coordination, timing and balance.)

    Walking, easy jogging, cycling etc. are good warm up methods for the lower extremities. For your upper extremities and trunk consider some dynamic exercise as seen here. Warm ups do not need to be longer than a few minutes as long as you feel that you have lubricated the tissues and joints that will be put under stress.

  • Passive stretching can help improve your flexibility when done regularly over time. After you have warmed up, stretch to the point of resistance, allow the tissue to release and then take up the slack. Repeat until you no longer release. Do not overstretch.

    I will also add here that passive stretching leads to a temporary weakening of the tensile tissue and this is the reason that it is NOT recommended prior to an activity where strength is required such as with weight lifting or most sports. Just do your passive stretching as a routine on it’s own or after your activity, sport or exercise.

Regarding your Other Questions:

  • As to your question about "if I do forward bends, am I obliged to do backward bends" - not necessarily. Generally it is good to make sure that all the muscles surrounding a joint have good flexibility. However, if you have limited forward bending, and excessive backward bending (or hypermobility), you would not need to stretch the motion that is hypermobile.
  • Stretching during work breaks is helpful to relieve muscles that tighten up as you work. In this case they are very useful. However, as far a gaining range, I would suggest using the mini sessions as a supplement, not a replacement to your full stretching routine.
  • As for your premise that stretching will fix cracking sounds in your joints - I’m not sure about that. First, see your doctor or physical therapist to find out what is going on with your joints. Without having a diagnosis, you may cause more problems by stretching, especially if you are trying to “exhaust various ranges”. Your condition may benefit from exercises that strengthen or stabilize your joints rather than increasing their flexibility.
  • As to poses 1 and 2, I would not say that they would help with your goal of injury prevention. To the contrary, extreme stretches (extreme anything) is more likely to cause, rather than prevent an injury. For the lotus pose, stretch the hip internal rotators and your adductors. This article gives a nice stretch using a method of PNF which contracts the tight muscles, followed by a stretch as the muscles relax.

Hope that helps. Other than that, I agree with @Dave, that for a better understanding, consider a book on stretching. If you are still looking for specific routines, I would recommend Jay Blahnik's, Full Body Flexibility. (If you are interested in getting any of these books through Amazon, I would appreciate it if you would use the link on our site.)

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Superb answer. Thank you very much. –  infoholic_anonymous Sep 5 '12 at 0:26
    
You are very welcome. –  BackInShapeBuddy Sep 5 '12 at 7:15

What Robin is getting at, is that static/passive stretching (The general bend and touch toes type stretching) is not indicated BEFORE activity. That is where you want to do range of motion exercises in gradually increasing intensity and amplitude to warm up the muscles.

If you want to do a stretching routine that increases your range of motion in kicking, then static/passive stretching also may not be what you want to work on. You want to develop your active flexibility, which is different than your static flexibility. Range of motion and kicking ability also depends on muscle strength, it's not all about being able to do the splits.

If you were to outline what, exactly, you would like to achieve then it might be easier to outline a program that would help.

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I've just provided some information on my objectives. –  infoholic_anonymous Aug 27 '12 at 17:33
    
@infoholic_anonymous - The best way to get better at yoga is...do more yoga. As far as the cracking sounds, keep in mind that stretching for increased range of motion can also make joints MORE unstable, not less. If you are worried enough to try to correct it, have a doctor take a look. –  JohnP Aug 27 '12 at 19:49
    
Yes, indeed. So my question is how such workout should look like, how to warm up before you start such a strenuous exerciseset and how to cool down afterwards. :) –  infoholic_anonymous Aug 27 '12 at 21:16

You shouldn't do anything that's traditionally considered stretching, that is to say lifting your leg up on something to stretch your hamstrings or bending forward to touch your toes. That leads to a performance decrease and an increased risk of injury. This is because stretching weakens your muscles for a short period of time after you stretch.

Now that isn't to say that you shouldn't do warmups - they're still a good idea, but your warmups should consist of movements that resemble the activity you'll be doing. For weight lifting that would be doing lifts with gradually increasing weight. For running that would be starting off with a walk, transitioning to a jog and speeding up as you warm up.

Now there's so called dynamic stretching, which isn't really stretching, I think calling it range of motion movements is more accurate. That said, some people have had it drilled into them that they need to stretch, and they're unwilling to not do it. They are willing to change how they stretch, but not that they stretch. So dynamic stretching as a term was coined to give these people something to do for a warmup that wouldn't actually be detrimental to their performance.

As far as cool down goes, it doesn't matter so much. Stretching (that is real stretching) feels pretty good with sore muscles for some people, even if there's no support for it actually being beneficial. At the same time, if you're not going to do anything afterwards, the concern of performance inhibition is moot, and you're not an increased risk of injury doing nothing either.

There is an exception, if you've got a strength imbalance between muscles involved in an action, targetting the stronger muscles with a stretch to bring them down closer to the weaker muscles would allow the weaker muscles to be engaged more, instead of doing nothing at all. That's physical therapy though, and shouldn't be a part of your regular warmup, and once you've achieved your goal you shouldn't be doing it anymore.

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I might have put my question in an ambiguous way, I was asking about a routine that would consist solely of stretches. For example in order to improve the range of motion in kicking. –  infoholic_anonymous Aug 26 '12 at 18:38
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However your contribution is still interesting. From what I had been advised, a warm-up should consist of : a cardio introduction (running, biking, jumping rope etc ), dynamic stretching ( I didn't know the name for this before, indeed it's odd to call these stretches at all ), proper stretching ( in order to "increase the movability of joints, strenghten the tendons and improve the muscle blood flow" and performing a few introductory light exercises resembling the proper workout. With such a "full" warm up would you sill discourage doing the stretching part? –  infoholic_anonymous Aug 26 '12 at 18:38
    
@infoholic_anonymous definitely I would discourage it, even with anything else, stretching is still a bad idea –  Robin Ashe Aug 26 '12 at 22:36
    
Could you provide any source for that? Since this is contrary to what I've read I'd like to read something from this perspective as well. –  infoholic_anonymous Aug 27 '12 at 0:09
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