It feels great to walk away from any workout, knowing that you are working on strength, agility, and improving your overall health.
While it is important to get your heart rate up and work on resistance training, it's critical that we don't overlook an essential part of working out and fitness: stretching.
More often than not, stretching falls low on our list of priorities when it comes to health and fitness.
If we only have a limited amount of time available for a workout session, then it’s easy to see why we would dedicate the full session to cardio and strength training instead of saving precious time for stretching.
But the truth is that stretching should be an important part of our exercise routine.
Flexibility and mobility are an essential component of fitness – it can have a positive impact on our overall results and the longevity of our health.
Most people do not understand the benefits of stretching, or may even wonder “what does stretching do?” and “why is stretching important?”.
In reality, stretching can directly lead to better performance and injury prevention.
Top 7 Benefits of Stretching
Here are a few important reasons why we should always try to include stretching as part of our fitness routine:
1. Avoid Mobility Problems: As the human body ages, it is expected that mobility will be reduced with time. However, we can help extend our years of agility by increasing our flexibility now, which can help to slow down the "aging" process.
Regular stretching helps us keep up with everyday activities, ensuring that we can enjoy our lifestyle with ease. There's really no downside to increased stretching in your daily routine.
2. Improve Range of Motion: When the range of motion within a joint is limited, it can have an impact on our freedom of movement.
Stretching to support range of motion is important to not only optimize our performance while playing sports, but it can also have an impact on reducing the risk of injury.
3. Injury Prevention: Before exercising, it is important to make sure our muscles, tendons, and ligaments are prepared for the activity. Active or Dynamic stretching is a gentle way to warm up the muscles before stepping on the playing field.
As a result, muscle movement is more fluid, which is important for injury prevention. For best results, include stretching with other warm-up activities such as a short walk or jog.
4. Help Manage Pain & Discomfort: Whether we have an old joint injury, or recurring back pain, stretching can be a critical step to helping with improving recovery.
For example, strengthening the core and back muscles, along with regular stretching to lengthen the muscles, can reduce the risk of strain in the back.
5. Improve Circulation: The cells within our muscles are fed through the blood flow that delivers nutrients and takes away waste.
Stretching can help with an improvement in circulation, which can be beneficial in preparing our muscles for physical activity and also reducing recovery time after the workout or game.
6. Posture Correction: Did you know that overly-tight muscles can lead to slouching and other posture issues? Muscle imbalances are common in both athletes and people living a sedentary lifestyle.
These imbalances can lead to poor posture, which can have a life-long impact on the overall structure of the skeleton.
The best way to maintain good posture is through regular stretching and strengthening of the muscle groups to improve proper alignment.
7. Release Tension: How often do you find that your shoulders are sore? One cause may be that you are holding tension in your neck and back.
Not only does stretching offer benefits for physical improvements, but it can also help with stress relief. Muscles can tighten in response to emotional and physical stress. Some of us may even experience headaches that are known as "tension headaches" if certain muscles are too tight.
This stress can be reduced by focusing on stretching the areas of the body that are holding the stress.
Why Stretching is so Important in Our Digital World
Many Americans live sedentary lives, which can cause the muscles to shorten. Over time, the muscles can tighten to the point where they cannot fully extend when the muscle is being used for an activity. Our physical body has a reaction to time spent in the office, sitting on the couch, or driving long distances.
For example, if you sit in a chair all day for work, then this position causes the hamstrings, quads, and hips to tighten up. This can lead to low back pain and an inability to move properly ... not just in the gym, but with day-to-day activities.
You might not even notice that the back of the thigh is tighter compared to what it was in the past, but you could experience small nuances in the way you can move throughout the day: it’s more difficult to straighten your knee completely or extend the leg.
Then, when you use these muscles in strenuous activity, such as a new exercise or a pick-up game of basketball, the muscles are suddenly stretched.
This motion can cause injury to both the muscle and the joints, because the structure isn’t strong enough to support the activity.
How to Start a Stretching Routine
Understanding the importance of stretching is just the first step – now it’s time to implement a stretching routine that you can maintain. The natural way to begin a stretching session is to focus on the muscles that are tight.
For example, you might feel tension held in the shoulders after spending a long day in front of the computer. A few shoulder stretches can start to loosen things up so you can move into other exercise activities.
Stretching is also a great activity for recovery. If you notice that certain muscles are sore from your workouts earlier in the week, then dedicate a bit of time to stretching those muscle groups.
In addition, stretching the muscles you just worked is a great option. As soon as you get done with a hard leg workout or cross-training, focus on stretching the main muscles you worked ... as this can improve recovery, decrease soreness, and goes right in line with your workout! Typically, stretching after your workouts should consist of static holds, where you hold the stretch from 20-30 seconds per body part.
One thing worth noting is how not to stretch - try not to bounce while completing stretches, unless recommended by a doctor/health professional. Bouncing and sudden movement in stretches, called "ballistic stretching", can cause injury and risk damage to your muscles. As the muscles are stretched gently, it can help promote improved circulation so the muscles can heal and recover better.
Another caution - attempting to stretch first in your routine can present risks to your muscle by causing stress to cold muscles with little circulation. Always warm up for a few minutes before stretching - this helps to circulate blood and helps your body prepare for stretching.
Consider your workout timeline to know where you can add stretches into your exercise routine.
For example, you might start with two minutes of active stretching as part of your warm-up routine, then end with another 2 or 3 minutes of stretching as you are bringing your heart rate back down after the workout.
Gradually increase your stretching time as it feels good to your body. Aim to include at least 10 minutes of stretching, repeated 2 – 3 days per week.
The more consistent you are with a stretching routine, the better the benefits you'll receive.
If you're trying to learn how to stretch for the first time or want to target a certain muscle, you could consider asking a friend or personal trainer. If you want professional advice or experienced help with creating a simple stretching routine, or anything else in your fitness journey, reach out to us here at 1st Phorm!
We have a team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers that are here to help you talk through any questions, concerns, or struggles you are facing ... 100% for Free!
Even if you don't shop with us, if you need help or someone to bounce ideas off of, that's what we are here for!
Simply send an email to CustomerService@1stPhorm.com or pick up the phone and call 1-800-409-9732 to talk to one of our NASM Certified Personal Trainers here at HQ!