Personally, I quite enjoy stretching, not that I can do the splits just yet- that is the dream, but I find it really relaxing after a workout. Stretching is actually a really important part of good health and it has numerous benefits which I will get to in a moment.
Whether you want to become super flexible, or just want to do it because it’s good for health, I hope this post helps you in your endeavors, especially if it’s to encourage you to get started.
Maintaining a flexible body helps reduce your chances of getting injured. This applies not only to your workouts but to everyday life as well. Stretching helps to increase your range of motion. You will see that after a few weeks of stretching that if you couldn’t stretch down far enough to tie your shoelaces, you now can.
You can reach the top shelves easier. You can run around and play with your kids, lift boxes, etc, without pulling a muscle. It’s not to say that it won’t happen, these things happen, especially when we push ourselves too hard or overwork our muscles over time.
If we don’t warm up properly before our workouts we can also get injured. The risk is just a little bit less because your muscles and joints will have a better range of motion. Stretching is especially important for elderly people who are more prone to falling and injuries.
I would like to mention that stretches before working out should be dynamic stretches. This means that instead of staying in one position for 10-30 seconds (static stretching), you are moving in a controlled (not jerky) manner, e.g. stretching your inner thighs by doing alternating side lunges.
Static stretching can weaken your muscles temporarily, causing more harm than good before a workout. Rather save static stretching for after your workout.
Stretching can help you to improve your posture. Often because of the bad habits we may have formed, or simple and seemingly silly things like your desk at work being the incorrect height, or having a bad chair, our muscles can become overly stretched in some places, and overly tight in others.
Take being hunched over all the time, the muscles in your upper back are overly stretched, and your chest muscles are tight. You may also find that wearing high heels all the time shortens your calf muscles, and almost all of your muscles can become shortened from exercising and not stretching your muscles afterwards.
You may even find that you have an imbalance in your muscles, such as if you play sports like tennis or golf, or carry a heavy bag using only one side of your body all the time. You need to strengthen and stretch your muscles out to make sure that they can support you in the best way possible. When you have good posture, you’ll also have fewer aches and pains.
Stretching can be relaxing. I enjoy stretching for a good 10 minutes or so after a workout, especially a strenuous one. It helps me to calm my body, stretch my tired muscles, cool my body down, and just breathe. It’s especially nice when there is nice slow music playing. I am sure that anyone who does yoga will tell you that they are more relaxed after a session.
It can even help increase your awareness of your body because paying attention to your body how it feels during stretching is important. Stretching can also be helpful in taking your mind off any worries that you may have.
Concentrating on just breathing and listening to your body as you stretch can focus your mind on something other than the tough day you’ve had, or the boo boo you made, or what you might be facing later.
A few safety tips and other info that will be good to know
- Stretching is not meant to hurt. You should feel a stretch and some tension because your muscles may be tight, but not pain. If it hurts, you are stretching too far.
- If your muscle is injured, first get the okay from a health professional. Stretching is often the first exercises you may be given to do by a physiotherapist but stretching or any other exercise too soon after a severe injury can interfere with the healing.
- Keep your movements controlled. Jerky movements can cause you to go too far or cause your muscle to stretch too quickly. If you are pregnant, this is especially important as your body releases hormones that relax your ligaments, muscles and joints to prepare your body for giving birth, you can still stretch provided your doctor has given you the okay to exercise, but easy does it, strength and control, not momentum.
- Only go as far as you can. See the first point so that you know how to recognise your limit.
- Warm up first. Jog on the spot, or take a brisk walk first, a warm bath can also help. Stretching cold muscles can result in injury.
- Stretching can be done quickly. You don’t need to stretch a muscle more than once or twice or for longer than 30 seconds. This won’t have much of an effect. It’s a nice advantage for exercising when time is short.
- If you feel any searing or sharp pains, you may have injured yourself. If you heard a popping sound or are bruised from stretching, see the doctor. If you stick to the first tip at the top though, the likelihood of this happening is very minimal. If you are tired during your workout, so much so that you can’t keep the correct form when doing exercises, rather take a break, this will also prevent injury.
So now you have it. Stretching is awesome! Enjoy your stretchy time 🙂
Health and Fitness Professionals Academy- Introduction to Exercise Science handbook.