Them’s the Splits – Flexibility & Stretching Yourself

Text Only LogoI like diversifying myself as much as possible as a writer, both in my fiction and nonfiction work. This means expanding my experience in different genres, industries, story lengths, formats, and styles. It’s a way to stretch myself, a way to push myself beyond current limits and reach for new opportunities. It’s a way to keep myself from getting too locked in or stuck in a rut while encouraging growth and flexibility in my skill set.

When it comes to stretching for physical fitness, many of us have grown up hearing the usual rhetoric about needing to stretch before any exercise to avoid injury, perform better, decrease soreness, and so on. Thing is, recent research is increasingly suggesting this isn’t true. Instead, many trainers and fitness professionals are having people stretch more after a workout, with already-warm muscles, in order to get the most out of the activity. People have confused “stretching” with “warming up” before exercise, but the two are quite distinct things.

While there continues to be some muddled debate about stretching timing and benefits, this shift in thinking doesn’t mean to toss out stretching altogether! Flexibility is helpful for fitness, giving you greater range of motion, improving posture, and strengthening weaker muscles. Flexibility is increasingly vital as we age, helping us retain joint functions and combating arthritis and other chronic pains. Oh, and stretching is a great quick activity you can do in the comfort of your home or work office, whether on a lunch break or between writing sessions.

So, debated timing aside, how should we stretch in order to see actual benefits? There are two main ways to go about it:

  • Static Stretching – This is simply stretching a particular muscle to its full limit and holding it there for 15-30 seconds (you don’t really see any extra returns for anything longer than that). There’s no bouncing, jerking, or otherwise. Just steady pressure to encourage the muscle to relax and elongate. This targets one muscle or muscle group at a time.
  • Dynamic Stretching – Yoga, anyone? This form of stretching employs motion and multiple muscle groups at once. Again, there shouldn’t be any bouncing or jerking here—just smooth, fluid motion. This can include lunges, high knees, back bends, arm swings, and torso rotations.

Some experts recommend using a short bout of dynamic stretching before a workout as part of the warm-up effort, with static stretching used afterward during the cool-down period. This is because dynamic stretching helps get the blood flowing and increase your heart rate, whereas static stretching is best done when stationary. Check out this link for a few examples of stretching routines you can go through.

Do you stretch regularly, whether in static or dynamic mode? Have you noticed any increase in flexibility over time and has that helped in your general physical performance?