Stretching Exercises: Are They Really Worth It?

image of person performing a static stretch

Static Stretch

Stretching exercises might be a misnomer because I don’t really think stretching is actually an exercise, but is definitely an important activity that is necessary for successful exercising. See the list of exercises and  activities for exercise. I also think that most people have a misconception about stretching. The muscles don’t actually increase in length by stretching. In reality, you’re just getting the muscles and connective tissues to relax and allow the joint to move more freely through it’s range of motion.

Benefits of Stretching

As stated above, stretching doesn’t actually “stretch” muscles. But, that doesn’t mean that stretching exercises are not important. They really allow joints to move through their full range of motion. This allows for proper movement and can lead to improved performance and decreased chance of injuries.

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Types of Stretching

There are two basic types of stretches: Static and Dynamic. Static stretching means that the stretches are being held in place. For example, holding toe touches for any length of time. The other type is called dynamic. Dynamic stretches are ones where the body is moving while the muscle and joint is attempting to increase it’s range of motion. For example: ankle rotations or arm swings. Both types have value. These days, dynamic stretches are commonly done by athletes prior to activity because they do a better job of preparing the body to the activity. Also, studies have shown that static stretching before activity can decrease strength and power in the muscles for abut an hour. Therefore, the practice of dynamic stretching as a warm up should be adopted by all exercises as well. Static stretches should be reserved for after activity.

illustration of a dynamic stretch

Dynamic Stretch

Stretching Guidelines

Most experts who understand stretching agree that care should be taken to elicit a stretch reflex. This happens when muscles are stretched too far or with too much force. As a safety mechanism, the muscle will actually contract to keep itself from being pulled too hard or torn. But, there are two conflicting schools of thought on how to stretch around these limitations. One school says to use short stretches (3-10 seconds) while contracting the opposing muscles. The second school says to hold easy stretches for a longer time (30-120 seconds) so that the muscle eventually relaxes. I see value in both and actually do both.

Overall, stretching is very beneficial and should be performed by all. Dynamic for warming up, and either type for after exercise. But, never stretch muscles farther than they would naturally move themselves and don’t put a load on the muscle.

I will be putting together a list of stretching exercises as soon as possible in a later article.

 

Walk Jog Run

Walk Jog Run is the perfect order to go from couch potato to racer. Let’s first discuss the difference:

Walking is propelling your body forward in a standing position while one foot is always in contact with the surface at all times as you shift the weight from one leg to the other. The general action is to land on your heel and then roll to the front of the foot and then push off with the toe. You can read my article on walking for weight loss.

Jogging is propelling your body forward in a standing position while allowing one leg to come off the ground while you shift the weight from one leg to the other.  Many people argue about the difference between jogging and running. I think the difference is in intensity. If you measure intensity by heart rate, jogging is probably done at 70% or less of your maximum heart rate. Jogging is about conserving energy, staying comfortable and lasting a long while. Jogging is something people do when their primary goal is fitness and/or weight loss. Joggers aren’t very interested in how fast they are going.

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Running is very much like jogging, but the intensity is higher. If you measure intensity by heart rate, running is probably done at 70% or more of your maximum heart rate. Although runners are also interested in fitness and body weight, their primary goal is speed and performance. Fitness and lower body weight are more a necessary factor for improved performance than a goal. Note of caution: Don’t call a runner a jogger. You may get a sharp rebut.

How to Make the Transition

I will detail this much more in Start Jogging and Start Running. But know that the key to success is to take your time. Give your body a chance to slowly adapt to the increased stress before you do too much to soon. Meaning, make small advances in intensity and stay at that level for at least three weeks before making another small advance. The general rule of thumb is to only increase distance (or intensity) by about 10% each step time you increase. That’s not a lot. Most running injuries are a result of too much too soon.

Mike Caton

 

 

Dance Fitness

Dancing for Fitness is a great activity for exercise because it has many of the same benefits as other traditional forms of exercise. There are many types of dance and as long as you follow guidelines, you can get tremendous fitness benefits.

Benefits of Dance for Fitness

Because it is a weight-bearing exercise, and you are moving around, dance has many of the same benefits as walking, jogging, and elliptical training. In fact, adding a partner might even give it more strength building than the other options because you are having to hold onto (push and pull) the other person. Some of the benefits include:

  • Builds strength
  • Improves balance
  • Increased aerobic endurance
  • Increased metabolism
  • Fat burning
  • Much more

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Guidelines

Keep in mind that in order to get these benefits, you’d have to stay within the guidelines of all activities for exercise: Either extended periods of continuous moving (moderate intensity) or shorter more intense bouts that really elevate your heart rate. Basically, don’t sit around a socialize, dance a lot!

Types

There are many types of exercise. Here are a few that you can choose from:

  • Ballet
  • Belly Dance
  • Country
  • Hip Hop 
  • Jazz
  • Modern
  • Square Dance
  • Swing
  • Tap
  • Zumba

You could take classes or partner dance. Unless you  can dance at least three days per week, you’ll need to supplement it with other activities form the list. But, if dancing is your choice of activity for exercise, pick your favorite and then go out and dance your heart out (figuratively speaking).

 

What is Circuit Training?

What is circuit training and exercises for circuit training? Circuit training is combining exercises together into a series to quickly perform one after another. The types and combinations are endless and only limited by imagination and available equipment. Circuit training is one of the great activities for exercise.

Back in the day, circuit training was looked down upon by fitness professionals. Circuits were regarded as inferior workouts compared to focused workouts. Meaning, if your circuit combined strength and cardio components, the feeling was that the strength portion wouldn’t be as good as a focused strength workout and the cardio not as good as a focused cardio workout. While that still may true, a lot has changed in regards to our perceptions of circuit training.

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Benefits of Circuit Training

A lot more calories can be burned in a circuit training session than the standard cardio or strength training session. Here’s why: When performing any one strength exercise, the muscle will fatigue after 30-60 seconds. At that point, the exerciser will have to rest before doing more repetitions. In a typical session, more resting takes place than actual exercising. In a typical cardio session, the intensity must be kept low enough to conserve energy for the 30 minute session. Going at a high intensity would result in fatigue in only a few minutes.

In circuit training, the exerciser can switch from one exercise to another, maintaining high intensity at each, while the fatigued muscles recovery. This results in a much higher net calorie burn and even better, a more elevated metabolic rate where fat can be burned for hours after the workout rather than just the time that the workout took place.

How to Create a Circuit

There is not one way to create a circuit routine. My personal favorite to prescribe is to do sets of four exercises:

  • One lower body exercise
  • one upper body exercise
  • one core exercise
  • one high intensity cardio exercise.

You could either rotate between these four items until you are finished, or you could go through them once or twice and then substitute for four different exercises. In a  later article I’ll list some examples.

 

Exercises for Balance

Exercises for balance may not seem obvious for the list of activities for exercise. I mean, most people don’t think of balancing as exercise. And while it doesn’t increase your heart rate, burn many calories or help you lose weight, it definitely is a very legitimate activity for exercise.  Reason being, once we get older, our balance is one of the first things to go. In fact, one of the number one reasons of injury to seniors is from falling.

But, balance is not only important for seniors. Everyone, including competitive athletes should be doing balancing exercises. It helps make sure you are keeping your body in proper alignment for exercises and general activities of daily living.

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Exercises for balance can take many forms and utilize a variety of tools. Overall, there are two categories of balance exercises: Static and dynamic. Static balance exercises are those that work on your balance as you are standing still. Dynamic are those that work on balance while you are moving. Both are important to work on. Static balance points out possible imbalances you may have. I.E. you may be unconsciously placing more weight on one leg than the other which could lead to eventual back problems. Dynamic could show possible erroneous shifts in balance while you are moving that could also lead to problems.

man standing on wobble boardThese are just a few tools that can help you improve balance:

Simply standing on one leg, especially when barefoot, helps with your balance. You can further enhance it by moving around, standing on a soft surface like a mat, pillow or mini-trampoline. You also try playing catch with someone while balancing on one leg. And, if you want to really spice things up, try closing your eyes while balancing. But, don’t do all these variations at once. I’d hate to see you play catch while standing with eyes closed on a trampoline.

Balance discs can also be used for standing one leg. But, I like to place multiple discs out for athletes to step on, over, or between while maneuvering through the balance disc obstacle course.

wobble boards are primarily used for static balancing. It’s very helpful to practice balancing while standing on these boards. I also find it helpful to try squatting while standing on a wobble board.

woman on stability ballStability Balls can be used for a multitude of exercises. In fact, that will be an article all it’s own coming soon.