I've been a fitness instructor for 23 years now--okay, I'm dating myself, but I started young!--and a lot of things have changed about my classes during that time. One thing, though, has remained sacred: stretching, before and after class. Many people don't bother, and that's a shame. There are so many benefits to incorporating stretching into a workout routine.
I utilize both dynamic and static stretches in class, the prior during the first 5 minutes, and the latter in the last 5 minutes. Dynamic stretches are also known as "active stretches" and are done while in motion. This is often referred to as the "Warm Up" period, because that's exactly what the movements do: drive blood to the muscles and warm tissue. This increases elasticity and flexibility, leading to greater range of motion during the intense part of the work out. Why does that matter? Two reasons - (1) it reduces the chance of injury; and (2) it increases the effectiveness of your work out. Those benefits far outweigh the "cost" of spending 5 minutes warming up!
Cold muscles should never be stretched. Once muscles are warmed up with a bit of light activity (marching, walking, lifting the knees, etc.), a few stretches will loosen the muscles and prepare them for the upcoming demands of your work out. An example would be dynamic lunges: stepping out with one foot, dropping the back knee down toward the floor, then pushing off from the front foot to return to standing. As you alternate legs, make sure your forward step is far enough out to prevent the knee from bending out past the front toes. Another example would be various arm swings to prepare for an upper body work out or a cardio class. The idea is to mimic the motions you'll be doing during your work out.
Static, or passive, stretching should be reserved for the end of the work out, or the "Cool Down" period. These are stretches that are held in place, elongating the muscle and releasing tension. It helps restore proper alignment and prepare for the next work out. Not to mention it's relaxing! Why not take a few minutes to recharge mentally and reward your body for its hard work?
One of the perks of being the instructor is that I get to choose the music. I put on one of my favorite slow songs and lead the class through different stretches. Sometimes I incorporate some yoga moves as well. I always remind the class members to modify any stretch that doesn't work for them...it should all feel good. Bouncing should be avoided, as it could push a muscle beyond the comfortable range of motion. I emphasize the mind/body connection and remind everyone to think about what muscle group they are stretching, and to let it relax if it's still holding tight.
Obviously, my classes--and tips--are geared toward people in good health looking to improve their general fitness. People with certain injuries, or elite athletes with specific goals, may have very different instructions. I should also note, in case it isn't painfully obvious, that I am not a doctor. I am a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor who loves writing romance novels filled with spooky suspense in her spare time.
I have Pinterest boards for both my passions, so I'll post the links below if anyone wants to connect over there. Happy Friday!
My Fitness Board
GULL HARBOR Storyboard
SILVER LAKE Storyboard