5 Reasons Why Stretching Is So Important, AND the Best Ways to Stretch!
Updated: Mar 17, 2022
As someone who's spent the majority of her life in some form of fitness, I can't stress enough how important it is to stretch.
Stop fighting it. Just do it.
It's one of the most important things you can do before, during, and after exercise …or any other time your body feels stiff. It's just as important as warming up, cooling down, getting your cardio in, doing any strength training, and working out with me, of course!
Being flexible is not just important for athletes. It's important for everyone, no matter what stage of life they're in. Yet, when I ask the majority of my clients if they stretched after an activity they’ve done without me, (especially the ones who are telling me about their aching bodies after a busy weekend), the answer is usually NO.
What??? Stretching is one of the best ways to keep your body feeling good! If you’re doing a Pilates session, then the flexibility work is actually built in to the exercises. That’s a major part of The Method to all that madness.
Now, when you’re doing an activity like golf or tennis or just going for a brisk walk with your friends, you have to make sure to add in that stretching time! Depending on how tight you are, you may need to stretch before working out as well as after. You may need to pause once you’ve warmed up, stretch, and then resume your activity.
We’ll also talk about types of stretches, and when to do them!
So What Are These 5 Benefits?
Stretching helps you prevent injuries
Relieves sore muscles and joints
Improves joint mobility and range of motion
Reduces stress levels and anxiety
Boosts blood circulation
Like a bit more detail? Here you go…
Stretching can help prevent injuries
Nothing’s worse that getting hurt doing something you really enjoy. No one wants to be that person who pulls a muscle within the first 2 tennis serves. Stretching is a great way to prevent injuries. It's so easy for muscles to become tight and stiff. New or harder workouts, lack of sleep, stress, and lack of focus during physical activity can all increase your chances of getting injured. When you stretch before a workout or competition, provided that you’ve properly warmed up, it helps to prevent the pulls and strains that can happen when muscles are tight and working too hard against each other.
Stretching also helps you recover faster from hard workouts. That post-exercise stiffness (that can sometimes feel like an injury!) can prevent you from moving smoothly and properly during your next time of activity. When you stretch and stay limber, you can maintain your range of motion, which means that when you're playing sports or exercising, your body is more in flow with what you’re doing. It’s easier to engage the right muscles at the right time, so your body’s moving more efficiently. While less muscle tension doesn't guarantee that you won't get hurt, certain exercises and stretches have been shown to reduce injury rates by as much as 50%. So, by keeping those muscles pliable and increasing your range of motion, can decrease your risk of injury.
Stretching relieves sore muscles and joints
The science is clear: stretching is one of the best ways to relieve achy joints and muscles. When you've been working out (or just doing life…Hello, Laundry Day!) muscles get tight and create tension in your joints. When we're on our feet all day long, it's no wonder our muscles and joints are complaining by the end of the day! Stretching helps us release those built up toxins and improve circulation so that we feel better after a long day. Stretching is also great for blood circulation because it increases the flow of oxygenated blood throughout your body. This delivers nutrients and removes waste from all parts of your body - keeping things running smoothly. When your muscles, ligaments, and tendons are tight, it puts stress on your bones, discs, and joints. Stretching relieves this tension which not only feels good but also keeps your joints healthy. When you stretch regularly, it prevents that extra stress from happening in the first place, so the muscle doesn’t get sore. Plus, when you're relieving those areas of pain by stretching them out, it's like taking a deep breath for your musculoskeletal system! Ahhh!
*We’ve all heard that stretching after a workout or competition helps release the lactic acid that's built up in your muscles. We always blame lactic acid for the soreness. Well, I’ll have to do another blog on this since that just may be a big ‘ol myth!
Stretching improves joint mobility and range of motion
Our joints are made to move, but over time they can become stiff. We age, we don't use them enough, we use them badly…of course, they’re sore! One of the main reasons why you should stretch is because it improves joint mobility and range of motion. Stretching increases the ease of movement within your range of motion. It cuts down on the friction within the joints. Maybe that means less pain from your golf or tennis swing. Maybe that means less stiffness after working at your desk. Being more flexible means that you can do more activities without straining your joints or muscles! Stretching helps our joints move more freely by improving mobility through muscle relaxation. And if you do experience an injury, stretching will help to restore the full range of motion in your injured joint.
Stretching also helps with reducing muscle tension and anxiety. When we're stressed, our muscles tighten up, which causes a lot of tension throughout our bodies. This only leads to more stress, anxiety, and friction as we continue to tighten our muscles. But when we stretch out those tight areas, they relax and release any built-up tension that may have accumulated over time.
Stretching reduces stress levels and anxiety
Like a good version of self-medicating, stretching can help you relax and relieve tension. We tend to breathe more deeply while stretching, and all of the studies on breathwork show just how important increasing oxygen to the brain is when trying to alleviate stress. You might also feel more confident when you feel less stressed out. If you're feeling stressed at work, try doing a quick mini stretch routine in your chair or at your desk. Just a few minutes of movement and breathing can help us all to feel more relaxed, both mentally and physically! And studies show that when people stretch before going into high-stress situations, it really helps! A more flexible body is also more relaxed during sleep…so you actually get more rest out of your sleep time and, in turn, release more stress.
Stretching boosts blood circulation
One of the most important reasons why stretching is so beneficial is due to its ability to increase blood circulation. Our blood carries oxygen and important nutrients to every part of our bodies, including the brain. Nourished cells are healthy and happy cells! We think and function better, so breathing through your stretches actually matters. Healthy blood flow through stretching promotes flexibility in the muscles so that they don't tighten up, therefore limiting circulation. Your body needs a constant supply of fresh blood to provide all of the cells and tissues with oxygen. The more active you are , the more your muscles need more oxygen, and that can't happen if your blood vessels are constricted. Focusing on flexibility helps eliminate tension in your muscles and helps to release any tightness that's preventing your blood vessels from fully expanding and , in turn, increasing the flow of blood to your muscles.
How to stretch properly
and get the most benefit from it!
There are so many different ways to stretch - here are some of the best!
Static Stretching - this type of stretch is typically a prolonged stretch held for 30 seconds or more. It's used to improve flexibility and range of motion in the muscles. For example, if you were stretching your hamstring muscles, you would stand up straight with one foot on a chair and grab hold of your toes while keeping your back straight (hold for 30 seconds).
Dynamic Stretching - this is like an active form of static stretching in which you move your limbs through their full ranges of motion, as opposed to standing still. This method can also include movements such as walking lunges, arm circles, and leg swings at the hip joint (all done at a slow controlled pace).
Ballistic Stretching - this type of stretch uses momentum and bouncing motions to force a muscle past its normal range of motion. This can lead to injury so it's only recommended for athletes who are trained and know how to do ballistic stretches properly with good form.
PNF Stretching (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching)- this type of stretch consists of contracting one muscle group then immediately stretching the opposing muscle group before allowing the first muscle group to relax. This method helps increase blood flow and reduce soreness in muscles because it restricts blood flow during the contraction phase--hence why it's called "post-isometric relaxation."
Active Isolated Stretching - this is a form of dynamic stretching but to a small, targeted area and the holds are only for a few seconds.
I actually enjoy doing all of these types stretches with a Foam Roller. Not only to you get the added blood flow, oxygenation, lengthening of the muscles, and increased flexibility that come with stretching, but you also get a massage from the Roller!!!
Stretching is one of the most important things you can do for your body. It helps prevent injuries, alleviate sore muscles and joints, and can even relieve anxiety and increase blood circulation. Learning how to stretch properly is key. It seems like a time-consuming activity, but stretching just a few minutes each day can have a major impact on your health and well-being. Go STRETCH!