10 Reasons Stretching is Just as Important as Exercise
Some people like it before and some after. Is it best done hot or cold? That is today’s consideration when discussing the importance of stretching and the many reasons it is vital to add to our workout routine.
The first question should be: why stretch at all? What benefit is it to our body? Believe it or not stretching is just as important as a regular exercise regime. Unfortunately many people tend to overlook this fact.
#10 Increases Range of Motion
Range of motion is defined as the full movement potential of a joints flexion and extension reach. In peak condition we can easily have 100% range of motion. Usually only injury or muscle tightness can limit our range of motion.
One of the most proven ways of increasing a joints range of motion is stretching. When any range of motion is limited, we become susceptible to falling off balance more easily. Being off balance than leads to a halting and stumbling gate and less overall control of our body’s movements. This in turn can of course lead to falls or other injuries. Stretching keeps you limber while offering an increased range of motion that is vital for these precious aging bodies that we all own.
#9 Improves Muscle Flexibility
This one goes hand in hand with range of motion as flexible muscles equal healthy joints. Included as one of the goals of a proper fitness regime should be flexibility along with strength and endurance. And the single best way to increase muscle flexibility- stretching. With age and time muscles slowly become tighter and shorter adding to muscle stiffness and less muscle flexibility. These kinds of restraints leave your body more vulnerable to injuries of the muscles, tendons and joints. With consistent stretching, your muscles are able to lengthen and improve in flexibility making is easier to exercise overall as well as limit the risk of possible related injuries.
#8 Reduce Muscle Soreness
The deep down aching kind of muscle soreness that we might feel after some workouts is caused by tiny tears in the muscles which get rebuilt quickly, thus increasing muscle strength and mass. Unfortunately stretching cannot help in reducing this type of muscle soreness. But the less intense type of muscle soreness that is usually felt after regular and routine workouts such as walking, jogging, tennis, cycling and such can be alleviated by taking the time to lengthen and stretch. Our muscles have gone through sustained and repetitive movements; following those activities with a stretching routine will allow them to release thereby negating muscle tightness and tension that could lead to soreness the subsequent day.
#7 Relax and Recharge
Virtually all exercise is done to increase the heart rate, get the blood and circulation system moving as well as build lung strength and endurance capabilities. Most people push and they push hard when working out. Spinning, sprinting, kickboxing, weight lifting, and all the other great sports included in the world of physical fitness. Committing to an exercise program means you have taken the time to expend a tremendous amount of energy and have probably reached your limit after each session.
To help the body recover from the adrenaline rush that comes with a sustained long and hard workout session, it is vital to take a minimum of 10 minutes (15-20 would be even better) to relax and recharge with some cool-down stretching. The time spent doing a long, slow and hold period of stretching is especially effective when done after a workout when muscles are warm and pliable. Use in conjunction with extended, slow, and deep breathing to bring the heart rate back to normal and oxygen into the muscles as you are stretching.
The rule of thumb is to never stretch when your muscles are cold; doing this can actually cause damage by muscles tearing, tendons over extending or joints getting irritated. Trying to stretch a cold muscle is like trying to bend an uncooked spaghetti noodle- there is no give, it will simply snap. The noodle needs to be heated before it is pliable, than it can twist and bend at will. The same goes for your muscles. It is always safe to stretch after a workout when the muscles have been warmed up. If you prefer to stretch pre-exercise, the next step explains this in a simple step-by-step outline.
#5 Warm-up Rule
Remember two minutes. That’s all you need to move before you can do a pre-exercise stretching routine. Focus on the areas of the body you will be going work on in today’s training. You can choose to simply warm those up, for example just legs or arms. Or you can do an overall warm-up with jumping jacks, jumping rope, rapid arm circles, jogging in place—any gentle cardio to get the blood pumping and the muscles warmed up is adequate.
This is still pre-workout preparation. Not a lot of time is needed for stretching at this point, simply enough to protect the muscles from hyper-extension. After the warm-up take another two to three minutes to stretch out any muscles groups you’ll be using that day and then get on your way.
#4 Stronger Can Equal Tighter
Almost every exercise done uses the hip flexors, which are the muscles that lift your legs. These are some of the strongest and most-used muscles in your body. They are attached to the spine and pelvis. As you exercise and these leg muscles get stronger, if you neglect to add proper stretching, they can also get tighter. This tightness can pull down your pelvic area, which can cause a tight lower back and hamstrings that will retract making for very stiff legs.
To counteract the tightness that comes from muscle building, as well as sitting with pulled up knees, stretching is the definitively best way to relieve tension and pain. Stretching these muscles out is the only way to keep your mobility fluid, otherwise things can essentially get worse.
#3 Hold to Lengthen
To actually lengthen a muscle, a pose, or stretch that extends a muscle cannot be rushed. It is important to take the time needed for a proper stretch. Remember stretching is just as important as the workout. A proper stretch means holding each posture static for 30 seconds for optimal muscle lengthening. Give yourself at least 10-20 minutes after every workout dedicated purely to stretching the muscles used during that day’s training. Attending least one yoga or Pilates class a week is also highly recommend as these classes are solely focused on lengthening and stretching core muscle groups. Spending this focused hour on your muscle mobility will make all the difference in your fitness health and body’s overall state of well-being.
#2 Improve Circulation
There is no doubt that moving your body, exercise and stretching all contribute to increasing circulation. One of the many benefits of increased blood flow is that the vital nutrients contained in red blood cells are getting to all the muscles and cartilage throughout your body.
To continue to encourage efficient circulation of your blood, it helps to practice proper stretching techniques as well. The body’s muscles and organs need oxygen and nutrients to function properly in addition to building strength, and maintaining movement and flexibility.
This type of complete circulation decreases muscle soreness following any exercise program. With a body that feels good and muscles that are less sore, it becomes easier to maintain a disciplined and on-going health program.
Proper stretching posture is practiced by keeping the joints aligned, for example hips under, neck and chin back, shoulders down, and knees over ankles. A stretching posture is than held until resistance is felt in the muscle. The aim is to push the muscles to where you might feel slight discomfort but never pain. Using deep breathing by filling up the belly and than following with a full exhale by contracting the stomach muscles will ensure that you are getting the maximum circulatory benefit by bringing oxygen to the muscles throughout the body.
#1 Reduces Stress
Stress is everywhere, in everyone’s life, in doses large and small, and in ways good and bad. The body machine was not built to distinguish between good stress, such as a long distance endurance challenge, and bad stress, such as a car accident. It just reacts according to signals emitted telling the body that it is in a state of stress. Over time if there is not adequate recuperation and replenishment of these resources the body gets burned out and is now open for business for the beginning of a host of diseases.
When a body is stressed, muscles tense and contract (think tight shoulders, stiff back). This type of pressure can affect your whole system, from tension headaches, to grinding teeth, to sluggish digestion as well as tightness in your entire muscular system. Conscious movement such as exercise is an excellent release for built-up stress and adrenaline overload. Longer and slower gentle stretching exercises work to loosen, oxygenate and release tension from not only your muscles but your whole nervous system. An additional bonus comes from those feel good endorphin hormones, which are released during exercise helping to create one stress-free happy camper.