We've all heard how stretching is good for us and we should do it more often, but why? What exactly are the advantages of adding stretching to your daily routine, and how can you do it successfully? With stretching trends seeming to change every day, it can be hard to know where exactly stretching fits into a healthy lifestyle.
To help clear things up, let's talk about all the ways stretching can help you stay healthy, how you can start incorporating stretching into your daily routine and some pointers on proper stretching technique. Keep reading to unlock the secrets of stretching!
7 Health Benefits of Stretching
Here are the top seven reasons to start stretching today.
1. Further Flexibility
An increase in your flexibility will reduce muscle stiffness and boost your ability to do everyday tasks with ease. Regular stretching will also improve your range of motion, which helps curb the decrease in mobility that naturally comes with age and the degeneration of joints.
2. Better Blood Flow
Muscles that are always tense limit their blood flow, meaning they receive less oxygen and essential nutrients. Stretching promotes better circulation to your muscles, which brings them extra nourishment and allows the muscle tissue to clear waste more quickly.
3. Injury Protection
Stretching before exercising is crucial because it warms your body up and gets your joints ready to withstand impact and sudden movements. Regular stretching will boost muscles' elasticity and decrease the resistance they experience during strenuous activity.
4. Loosen Up
Stretching after a workout is equally as essential as doing so before exercise because stretching your muscles after being active will keep them loose. A post-workout stretch will lessen the tightness and pain that come from the shortening of strained muscles.
5. Proper Posture
If you experience lower back pain or poor posture, stretching can help heal your muscles by releasing tightness and relieving strain. Following a regular stretching routine will strengthen your back muscles and improve your posture, which can reduce discomfort from existing back injuries.
6. Less Stress
Manage anxiety by stretching to release the tension held by tight muscles. When you're under physical or emotional stress, your muscles tend to clench, especially those near your neck, upper back and shoulders. Stretching these areas can relieve this stress and calm your mind if you practice meditation and mindfulness as you go through your routine stretches.
7. Athletic Advantage
Stretching can lead to better athletic performance because well-stretched and flexible joints require less energy to move through a broader range of motion. Greater flexibility will increase your energy efficiency, enabling you to push your body further without feeling like you're putting in much extra effort.
How to Start Stretching
Knowing where to start stretching can be overwhelming — you have over 650 muscles to choose from! But don't worry, there's no need to stretch every single muscle in your body every day. For beginners, stretching primary mobility muscles like hamstrings, quadriceps and calves along with your neck, shoulders and lower back at least three or four times per week is a good start.
You can also use stretching to target a specific muscle group or fitness goal. For example, go through specific yoga poses to prevent injuries from running or encourage sound sleep. If there's a particular area of the body you use repetitively or carry stress in, search for stretching routines to loosen up the surrounding muscles.
Before you start looking up stretches, there are two main types of stretching you need to be aware of — static stretches and dynamic stretches. Here's what to know about these categories so you can create the stretching regimen right for you.
When we picture the stereotypical stretching of holding a specific position for a set period, we are thinking of static stretching. Usually, static stretching involves getting into a comfortable position that allows you to feel a stretch without strain for up to 30 seconds. Static stretching can effectively reduce the risk of injury and is best to do after exercising to loosen muscles when they're at their most pliable.
A dynamic stretching routine involves active movements that stretch your muscles and push their range of motion without holding a position. Because they prep your muscles for more intense exercise, use dynamic stretches to prepare your muscles for use.
Proper Stretching Techniques
Before you start your new stretching routine, it's critical to use proper form to avoid injury. Poor stretching practices can ultimately cause more harm than good, so understanding how to stretch well is crucial.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind for safe stretching sessions.
- Start with a warm-up: To avoid straining or potentially pulling cold muscles, get moving for a bit to get your blood flowing. Do a light activity like walking or jogging for around five minutes to warm up your muscles before stretching, or else it will feel like pulling a stiff rubber band.
- Stop if you feel pain: It might go without saying, but don't deepen a stretch past the point of feeling pain. Although it's typical to feel a bit of discomfort when stretching a tight muscle, you should never feel sharp or intense pain while stretching. If you do feel a twinge while stretching, back off the stretch to a pain-free point and hold the position there.
- Stay still: Bouncing as you stretch can cause tiny tears in your muscles, leaving scar tissue within the muscle as it heals and tightening it even more. To prevent pain and less flexibility, make sure you're completely stationary while doing static stretches.
- Set stress free: Holding your breath while you stretch will add to the tension you're trying to release. Instead, try to relax and breathe into the stretch.
- Stretch evenly: For most muscles, you have a left and a right side. Ensure your joints have an equal range of motion by stretching them all evenly during your routine.
- Stick to a schedule: There is such a thing as over-stretching your muscles. Stretching puts only a small amount of stress on your body, but over time, that stress can build up and cause damage. Try to follow a modest stretching routine and avoid stretching the same muscle group multiple times per day so you don't overdo it.
- Start and end with stretching: Some light stretching before exercise is critical to a proper warm-up, but be sure to do your most thorough stretching after your workout, which is when your muscles are most pliable and responsive to stretching.
Let Your Local Y Answer Your Stretching Questions
If you're still wondering how a regular stretching routine could benefit you, the Gateway Region YMCA is happy to help. We offer many stretching-focused classes, such as Pilates and yoga or spirit-mind-body classes. At the Y, our priority is to work with you to help you achieve your health and fitness goals through proper stretching.
Contact us today to learn more about how stretching can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and classes that will help increase your flexibility.