Featuring Adelene / @ade_adedancesg, Founder of Adedance Aerial and aerial arts instructor who has been dancing since she was six years old
How many times have you left a studio or the gym after a workout without stretching, thinking it won’t make much difference? Ah, look at how many of you are guiltily looking away from this page right now.
It’s tempting to rush off after a workout, especially if we are in a hurry or embarrassed ourselves during our workouts (fell flat on your face? Used someone else’s towel by accident? It happens to the best of us). It’s also easy to brush stretching off as something dancers or yoga practitioners do because they need the flexibility. But the truth is, we can all benefit from stretching after exercising. The stretch you do depends on your workout and what muscles were used. If you do a lot of pole dancing in heels, for example, then you’ll want to stretch your calves. If your calves get too tight, so will your hamstrings and glutes, which can lead to lower back pain - the same reason many people who stand all day have lower back pain.
Why do I have to stretch?
Stretching lengthens muscles that become short and tight from exercise - and, while we’re at it, being sedentary. The next time you need to use those same muscles, they are unable to extend all the way, which decreases your range of mobility and increases risk of injury, muscle stiffness and muscle cramps.
Fine… I’ll stretch. What type of stretches can I do?
Passive stretching versus active stretching
Static stretching is a common choice for cooling down after a workout or for respite from sitting all day. There are two types of static stretches: Passive stretching and active stretching. Here is an illustrated example of a passive stretch versus an active stretch.
A passive stretch is a stretch that is applied by an external force like a yoga instructor, another body part or the ground. Your muscles are relaxed in this stretch. Passive stretching trains passive flexibility and helps our joints access a bigger range of motion. On the left side of the diagram, we see how the model is using their hands to stretch their leg closer to their shoulder.
An active stretch, on the other hand, requires you to move one muscle group to stretch another as there is no external force provided. In an active stretch, your muscles are engaged and contracted to hold the stretch in place. On the right side of the diagram, the model is using the muscles in their leg to hold the stretch up.
2. Self-Myofascial Release
Another type of stretch people can do after working out is self-myofascial release or SMR, which is essentially a self-massage using self-myofascial release devices like foam rollers or peanut massage balls. For this stretch, small, continuous back-and-forth movements are applied over a targeted area using the chosen tool for a certain amount of time. The point of this stretch is to release muscle tension and improve flexibility in the myofascia, a thin layer of connective tissue in our body that covers the muscles. Tension and tightness can cause the myofascia to become fixed in a particular position, known as myofascial restriction. SMR releases the tight knots in the myofascia from their bundled position and realigns them along the natural, straight lines of the muscle fibers.
How long should I stretch for?
All you need is 15 minutes. It seems like a long time for a stretch, but most workouts utilise more than one muscle group. Let’s say you stretch your back, your quads and your glutes for five minutes each after doing aerial arts - that’s already 15 minutes. Stretching is crucial. Don’t skip your stretch.
One last word:
Don’t force yourself to get into positions you cannot access while stretching. It is more important to understand which part of the body you should be feeling the stretch, and that you actually feel it there. Just because you are able to get into the position does not mean you are stretching the correct muscle.