Feel Great

In the Magazine: Stretch it Out

by Debbie Letchman, WTH writer

Check out this feature and other great stories in this semester’s What the Health magazine, dropping Wednesday!

Stretching prepares the body for physical activity. Benefits include playing a better game, having a better run and preventing serious injury. Yet, some personal trainers at Syracuse University, say they rarely see students at campus gyms stretching properly before and after exercise.

George Sabotka, head coach of the Syracuse University club gymnastics team and owner of Westside Gymnastics School in Syracuse, recommends stretching for 15 minutes before and after working out. The consequences of skipping a pre-workout stretch could be detrimental, he explains. One of the Sabotka’s gymnasts came in from the cold weather and forced himself right into a split and ripped tendons. Though he was able to work out within two weeks, the athlete’s pain lasted about eight months, Sabotka says.

According to Sabotka, long-distance runners, athletes in track and field, gymnasts and athletes in other sports should all stretch a little differently. Runners should take a few long strides to simulate their workout. Cyclists should stretch all muscles in the legs before spinning their wheels. But, regardless of your workout, all athletes should still make time for a quick full body stretch to prevent injury.

Sabotka recommends the following stretches to target specific muscles before your next workout:

For exercises that work the legs

Perform these stretches before using the treadmill, elliptical, stair climber and bike. Use for other activities with lots of legwork: dancing, aerobics, and running sports, like basketball and soccer.

  • Start standing and move one leg in front of the other in a lunge position. Put most of your weight on your back leg, to stretch the calf muscles.
  • Stand on one leg. Bend the other leg toward your butt, grabbing your ankle to deepen the stretch.
  • Sit with your legs extended straight in front of you. Bend your torso forward, reaching for your toes.
  • Lunge one foot forward. Allow the knee behind you to touch the floor and sink your pelvis toward the floor to deepend the stretch.
  • Lay on your back with legs fully extended on floor. Bend one knee, keeping that foot flat on the floor. Bend the opposite leg and pull your knee your chest with your hands.

For workouts that use the arms

Try these stretches before running, using the treadmill, weight lifting, swimming, aerobics, dancing, and sports that use the arms, like tennis.

  • Place your arm flat against a wall (extended at shoulder height) and turn your body in the opposite direction.
  • Extend your arm in front of you, with palm facing the ceiling. Lift your arm all the way back and above your head until your elbow points toward the ceiling. Use other arm to grab your elbow, reaching first arm toward the floor.

For exercises that work your back

Use every time you work out

  • Lay on your back, with your knees bent and your feet flat against the floor. Pull your knees to your chest and hold.
  • Lay on your stomach, with your palms on the floor and gradually straighten your arms, pushing your upper body off the floor, arching your back to stretch the abdominal muscles.
  • Kneel on the floor, on all fours. Contract your stomach in, curling your back, reaching your spine toward the ceiling. Hold. Reverse, releasing the stomach, arching your back, pushing your stomach toward the floor, and let your head reach back, looking toward the ceiling.