The importance of stretching is lost in so many of our workout routines. Many think that stretching is a waste of time. You don’t have to do a full yoga workout to adequately stretch. In some cases, you just have to move your body normally, but with more intention.
The benefits of stretching go beyond maintaining and improving flexibility. Therefore, it is more important than you may think.
Some other benefits include:
- Increased blood flow
- Improved circulation
- Increased oxygen levels
- Improved delivery of nutrients to your muscles
- Removed metabolic waste (such as carbon dioxide, ammonia, and uric acid)
- Can aid conditions such as diabetes and depression
- Improved posture
- Decreased muscle stiffness
- Maintain and increase range of motion
- Reduced risk of injury
There are different types of stretching that I talked about briefly in another post that you can find here, along with the other four essentials needed for an effective workout routine.
Before Your Workout
It is very important to stretch before beginning your workout to make sure that your muscles, tendons, and joints are ready to perform at their top level.
These stretches are called dynamic stretches which are movements that prepare your muscles for more intense exercise. They typically mirror or imitate functional movements but are done at a pace slower than the one at which a workout would be done. Dynamic stretches also utilize your full range of motion, which will not only lubricate your joints but also warms up your muscles and tendons to their full extent, leading to a lowered risk of injury.
Examples of dynamic stretches:
- Arm circles- Targets shoulder muscles and joints
- Hip circles/Leg swings- Targets hip joints and surrounding muscles
- High knees- Targets hips and knees
- Squats/Lunges- Targets lower body (hips, knees, ankles, etc.)
- Cat-Cow- Targets the back
You can find descriptions on how to perform these stretches along with short videos showing the proper form here if you aren’t sure how to do them properly.
After Your Workout
As tempting as it may be to sit or lay down right after you finish the workout that left you drenched in sweat, having a cool-down period is vital to allowing your body to readjust. You should spend 5-10 minutes doing a cool-down period, which can include some of the dynamic stretches from above but should include static stretches as well.
Static stretches are simple movements. They involve stretching a muscle to its longest point, or as far as you can go without pain, and holding your body there for a period of 30 seconds to two minutes. Static stretches should feel uncomfortable, but they should never be extremely painful.
Two of the best benefits of including these stretches in your cool-down are that you will reduce the muscle soreness that you experience and increase your recovery time post-workout.
Examples of static stretches:
- Front fold over- Targets hamstrings, can be done seated or standing
- Crossbody- Targets upper back and shoulders
- Neck stretch- Targets neck and upper trapezius muscles (found at the base of your neck)
- Butterfly- Targets groin
- Hip flexor lunge- Targets hip flexors and thigh muscles
You can find these and a few more static stretches here, along with the directions and photos to help you get the correct form.
Make Stretching a Habit
According to David Nolan, a physical therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital, stretches need to be done regularly and should be done daily. That can sound pretty overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Think about how your body feels at the end of the day. Back pain? Neck pain? Feet and legs sore? Make a mental note, these may be the areas on which to focus.
Next, think about what you do during the day. Do you sit at a desk for eight hours? Are you lifting heavy objects? On your feet all day? Knowing and acknowledging how your body is held for the majority of the day will help you to know where to focus.
You may need to do a little research to find the best stretches for you, based on your individual needs and lifestyle. I’ve personally used a few YouTube videos to learn some stretches to help me when I went from a job on my feet all day to one that required me to sit at a desk. It was a crazy transition that I was not prepared for, but adding in some focused stretches helped greatly.
While it is best to aim for daily stretches, performing them three to four times a week will work wonders on your body. You can add them in before and after your workout, or you can also start your day with a few light stretches to wake up your body. I love some good stretches at the end of a long day to stretch off the stress I’ve accumulated through my shift.
Remember that consistency is key when it comes to stretching. You won’t increase your flexibility or experience a magical decrease after the first or second time. Make a habit of stretching your body, and you will notice the difference.
Thank you for reading this post! If you enjoyed it, please consider following me on any of my social media accounts linked below!