For many of us, stretching is the most forgotten-about activity in our fitness routine, often being the first thing we cut when we are running short on time. Perhaps the reason stretching gets cut is because the benefits (increased flexibility/range of motion, better posture, etc.) are widely considered secondary benefits of exercise, with losing weight, building lean muscle and generally looking tighter tend to be top of mind. I beg to differ.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, stretching is REALLY important to your overall health and wellbeing. And, stretching on a daily basis can help keep you flexible to minimize body pains and manage injuries now and throughout your lifetime.
** scroll down to see 2 of my favorite stretches
Important takeaway: Prehab is the best rehab – meaning, start stretching now, to prevent injuries that occur from sports, working out, overworking, or becoming more sedentary later in our life.
How Working Out & Stretching Affects Our Muscles & Performance
As we workout, our muscles contract and get tight. While we want this to happen, because it’s breaking down and rebuilding stronger muscles (creating lean muscle), it’s important that they also have a chance to relax and lengthen so they are not tight all the time.
Tight muscles pull on the tendons, ligaments, and bones they are connected to, causing constant stress on the joint, eventually pulling it out of alignment and forcing the stressed joint to bear increased weight, causing damage over time.
To avoid those problems, you need to stretch thoroughly, giving your muscles a chance to recover properly and realign the fibers where they belong. For something that is so easy to do, and can be done any where, the benefits of stretching are pretty motivating. In fact, for professional athletes, stretching has been the secret weapon so widely adopted over the past 10 years that has so greatly increased their performance AND longevity in professional sports.
Physical Benefits of Stretching
Stretching naturally helps improve flexibility, which can reduce your risk of muscle, tendon, and joint injuries. In fact, probably one of the biggest benefits is the longevity it gives to the function of your precious joints. Just like every successful athlete in the world (ie: NFL players, etc.), the simple act of stretching properly can add years to your favorite sports and activities.
Increased Range of Motion
Stretching increases the range of motion in your joints. When your joints are able to move through their full range of motion, your muscles are able to work effectively, you’re able to keep better balance, and you increase your overall ability to stay active (now and in the future). Through relaxed breathing techniques you can release tension and concentrate on the tissues being stretched. As you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes, and your heart slows. This is the best time to lean deeper into a stretch, as you can release muscle guarding and let gravity do it’s work.
Additionally, stretching increases blood flow to muscles and cartilage. Whether or not you exercise regularly, the benefits of increasing circulation to an area is important for the function of your activities of daily living. Increasing blood flow by stretching helps reduce soreness after a workout, and also supports the muscle’s ability to contract.
By concentrating on your breathing, you will increase body awareness. By focusing on the quality of your breaths, it allows you to ease into the new range of motion, once known as restriction, tightness, pain or body aches.
Stress (both good and bad) IS a physical ailment, and stretching can help provide relief. The internal chemistry of stress causes your muscles to become tense, which can affect any and all parts of your body. Regular stretching relaxes tense muscles, and provides the same endorphin-boosting effect other exercise offers. Notice how good you feel when you take just one deep sigh. Do that over and over again and recognize how much more calm your body feels just with a few deep breaths.
Developing Your Stretching Routine
Generally, studies indicate that with just 5-10 minutes a day, 3-4 times a week, stretching can provide significant improvements in your range of motion. That means you should be able to easily incorporate a proper stretching program, even if you don’t do it until you’re home from work and watching the news!
Here are 2 of my favorite easy stretches to get you started into developing your own routine:
Doorway Chest Stretch
this is excellent for your chest, biceps, forearms and the front of your deltoids, especially the bicep tendon. This is a very important stretch to do throughout the day if you do work on a computer, for example, as your body tightens up from hitting the keys and leaning forward. It’s also great for improving your posture.
you can do this single arm, too…notice my foot placement when doing the single arm version
Hip Flexor / Runners Lunge Stretch
excellent stretch for anyone that is sitting for most of the day, as this puts a lot of stress and tension on the hip flexors
If you’re looking for the real deal with professional assistance to guide you along the way, come to my Community Stretch Class in Atlantic Beach this Wednesday at 6:00pm. Click here for more info!
If you’re not sure what your body needs most, I can help you review your current state of flexibility, and your fitness or sport goals, to develop a program that will provide you with the most benefit.