Stretching is something that we all know needs to be done and should be a part of our everyday lives, it’s nothing new. The modern practice of yoga is, in essence, extended stretching poses to alleviate certain health problems and increase range of motion. But stretching is something that is almost ignored by certain people. For example, those who exercise all know the benefits of warming up and cooling down, which predominantly involves stretching the muscles. However, many will tend to ignore stretching. Stretching is so important for our health and vitality, so let’s cover the main reasons why we should stretch on a regular basis.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF STRETCHING?
Many people know that stretching before or after any physical activity is crucial, but it’s not just about stretching before doing something physical. In fact, stretching every single day, regardless of the undertaking, is crucial. There are five key benefits that we can all benefit from remembering:
Stretching Improves Range of Motion
As we get older, our joints start to lose their range of motion. Some reasons for these include injury, pain, tight muscles, or just a lack of activity. By stretching regularly, we can counteract this. Even if you are experiencing issues like joint pain, where it may be difficult to stretch, it’s important to remember that stretching is a way for you to counteract any range of motion you
may lose as stretching can also prevent loss of range of motion. Even if the range of motion in certain joints is limited, this is where stretching can be a very vital weapon as we get older.
Stretching Improves Posture
So many of us can suffer from the symptoms of a sedentary lifestyle. The jobs we do may require us to sit at our desks for prolonged periods of time, which means that, over the years, we get into positions that will severely hinder our posture. There are so many negative repercussions of poor posture, including back pain, and degeneration of the joints, and it can even have an impact on your physical appearance, such as a potbelly. The muscles of the upper and lower back, the chest, and the hips can impact our posture if they are tight.
When we think about the things we do on a regular basis, it’s not so difficult to see how our posture can be greatly impacted. Looking at a phone or tablet means we round our shoulders and lean our head forward. Stretching the upper trapezius, the pectoralis, and hamstring muscles can have a positive effect on our posture.
Stretching Prevents Injury
Exercise is pivotal to strengthening our range of motion and if we can stretch, we increase the range our muscles can move, so it’s less likely we will injure them. Stretching before or after physical activity can prevent injury by bringing blood flow to the muscles, waking them up, and decreasing any tightness in certain muscles. So, if you stretch your calves before any exercises involving them, such as running, you are increasing the blood flow and preventing strain or a tear. So many people give up health and fitness activities because they’ve injured themselves in
the process. While injuries can be commonplace when working out, this is why knowing the best practices for preventing injury makes a massive difference, especially in the context of exercising.
Stretching Decreases Back Pain
When we have poor posture in the upper back, the lower back will compensate for it, which forces our body into positions that over time, could cause lower back pain. For example, if we have tight hip flexors or hamstrings the lower back compensates. Stretching the leg muscles and posture muscles like the trapezius will contribute to a decrease in back pain.
Stretching Reduces Muscle Soreness
For those who like to work out but find themselves experiencing muscle soreness from overworking a particular muscle group, this is a sign we have put our muscles under significant tension. While the whole purpose of getting stronger is about putting your muscles “under load,” it’s important to note that excessive soreness can be a long-term problem. You need to ensure you are working out to the point where you are developing a limited amount of muscle soreness because, for most people, this is a sign that the muscle is adapting, but you also need to stretch to relieve some of this discomfort.
Many times when we experience injury, the muscles around the site of the injury will tighten up. This is a natural protective response that can increase inflammation. Stretching tight muscles out after a particularly challenging workout can alleviate pain and soreness.
Stretching Is Excellent for Stress Relief
When we experience tension, either mentally or physically, it’s likely our muscles are tense as well. Our bodies will tighten up in response to emotional and physical stress, which can contribute to rounded shoulders and neck or back pain, which contributes to tension headaches. Tension headaches are commonly misattributed to the head, but the fact is that the muscles of the neck and the shoulders are directly linked to the top of the head, which means that if you are experiencing tension headaches, learning to improve your posture and stretching the muscles in the shoulders and neck will reduce that tension.
When we feel stressed, participating in a regular stretching program can calm our minds. This is especially effective when done in conjunction with meditation or mindfulness. This is arguably why yoga is so popular in relieving those stresses.
WHAT ARE THE BEST PRACTICES FOR STRETCHING?
It’s important, before we start any stretching routine, that we have a solid understanding of the risks and be aware of how to approach it safely. Stretching is incredibly beneficial for us, however, we’ve got to understand our bodies first as stretching can exacerbate certain injuries.
If you have an acute injury in a certain area, it’s important to start any stretching routine slowly and surely. Much like exercising, a lot of people think that they could just go straight in, but we all have physical limitations when it comes to our flexibility and mobility. Our range of motion can be limited depending on a number of factors, like our age or our level of fitness, which is why it’s a good idea to consult a professional like iFlex that can tailor the right stretch therapy for your needs.
We always have to remember that stretching can be beneficial similar to exercise, as long as we do it safely. Here are some of the following things to consider:
Focus on Major Muscle Groups
Concentrating your stretches on the major muscle groups in your body will help increase your range of motion and mobility. You need to concentrate your stretches on groups such as your thighs, calves, hips, lower back, and shoulders. When stretching, ensure that you stretch on both sides. Additionally, you need to stretch the joints and muscles that you use all of the time within certain activities. For example, if you do exercises with weights such as a deadlift, this exercise is fantastic for the range of motion as it trains the hamstrings, the back, hips, glutes, core, and trapezius. Therefore, stretching all of these prior to that exercise doesn’t just ensure you will perform the exercise safely but will guarantee more success in that exercise.
Do Not Stretch as a Way To Warm Up
As beneficial as it is to stretch your muscles before exercise, warming up your muscles is far more important before you stretch them. There are different schools of thought as to whether you should stretch before doing certain exercises, but what is commonly agreed is that you may hurt yourself if you stretch when your muscles are cold. Prior to stretching, you need to warm up your body. You can do this by walking, jogging, or any other low-intensity exercise. Most people will recommend you stretch after your workout for the reason that your muscles are warm. Some research has shown that stretching before an intense activity like sprinting can decrease the level of performance, and can weaken hamstring strength before activities like running or track and field.
Go for Symmetry
Everybody is different, and even our genetics will have some impact on our flexibility. It’s important to start in a simple way. This means that rather than striving for gymnast-level flexibility, focusing on having equal flexibility on both sides can reduce your potential for injury. This is especially beneficial if you’ve had a previous injury in the past.
Do Not Bounce
Many specialists considered ballistic stretching to be the best way to increase flexibility. However, ballistic stretching can run the risk of pulling or straining a muscle. Any stretching that
is too forceful can damage the tissue around the joints, such as the tendons and ligaments, which, over time, could develop into tendonitis or cause small muscle tears, which will reduce flexibility.
Do Not Stretch to the Point of Pain
You need to feel tension rather than pain. If something hurts, you’ve done too much. You need to hold each stretch for approximately 30 seconds, and in problem areas, a bit longer – roughly 60 seconds. Tension is the goal rather than pain.
Stretch Based on the Activities You Do
If you do not have any exercise regime, but you like to go walking, you can stretch your calves and hamstrings as excessive walking can make you more vulnerable to hamstring problems. Experts suggest that it is helpful to do stretches with those muscles you use, which makes a lot of sense as it can increase your level of flexibility which could improve your performance.
Incorporate Movements Into Your Stretching
Yoga and pilates are stretches that incorporate planes of movement. When you start to bring gentle movements into your stretching routine, you can be more flexible, which will help you as you get older. Movement practices like yoga and pilates can help to reduce injuries, and could even reduce falls in older adults.
Some people start stretching with the best of intentions, but soon give up when they notice some benefits. The fact is that you can achieve the most benefits in flexibility by stretching on a regular basis. Doing it every day is recommended, but at the very least you should try to do it 3 times per week with 5 to 10 minutes of stretching at any one time.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME OF DAY TO STRETCH?
This is something that isn’t always addressed but is definitely worth focusing on. Stretching at different times of day can have a positive impact on our bodies because our bodies are different depending on the time of day. Some people like to stretch in the morning as soon as they wake up, but others like to do it in the evening before they go to sleep. Which one is best? It all depends on what you want to achieve.
Everybody has had those mornings where they wake up uncomfortable, or numb and tingly. These can be caused by sleeping in bad positions or pinched nerves and knots in our muscles,
which makes sense if we are sleeping in a strange position. You wouldn’t stay in an uncomfortable position for hours on end if you were awake.
When you wake up first thing and you feel stiff and uncomfortable, it’s important to check in with your body and take the time to stretch your body gently and slowly. We can all benefit from aligning our bodies before we start our day. As our bodies take some time to get into the swing of things, we’ve got to be conscious of this rather than forcing our bodies into positions that will be extremely uncomfortable or painful.
Stretching is about putting a little bit of tension in our bodies, not pain. If you want to start stretching in the morning, you can benefit from stretching from the ground up, focusing on your ankles, and legs, and go all the way up to your neck.
Stretching in the Evening
If you’ve been working all day sitting in a chair or in uncomfortable positions, you are going to have a significant amount of tension in your body. Going to sleep with this tension means you will have aches and pains the following morning, so the cycle of feeling uncomfortable will continue.
Much like people who have night-time routines like to wind down and relax, there are benefits to having a relaxing stretching routine before you go to bed. You can do this with relaxing music, and think about it in terms of how you would cool down after an exercise. Giving your body gentle stretches that reduce tension in certain parts of your body is going to make a difference. You need to focus on the areas that have been uncomfortable and slowly give them time to decompress. You can start by stretching your neck and working your way down to the feet.
WHAT ELSE DO WE NEED TO CONSIDER?
Stretching on a regular basis is incredibly beneficial for every part of your body and mind. If we are to build a stretching routine that can increase our range of motion and flexibility, we need to create one that suits our needs. Stretching can be excellent in conjunction with a workout routine, but if you want to get the most out of stretching, here are a couple of things to bear in mind.
Hold a Stretch for Between 15 and 30 Seconds
Focus on tension rather than pain. If necessary, you can repeat the stretch until you feel more flexible or have warmed that particular area up. Before strength training, dynamic stretches can help increase the range of motion.
When cooling down after exercises, static stretching will be a safer and more effective approach because your muscles are warm.
Focus on Your Breathing
Breathing properly is a vital part of stretching. Breathing through the diaphragm will teach you how to breathe more effectively and will strengthen your core muscles. Do not hold your breath when you are stretching, instead, focus on breathing low and slow, and use this as an opportunity to tune in with your body. Whenever you notice yourself holding your breath, stop, relax, and take a deep and slow breath in and out through your nose. You can practice breathing exercises away from your stretching routine to make sure that you are performing as calmly as possible.
We must remember that when we are breathing shallowly and sharply, this is going to increase tension and stress. When we are stretching, the goal is to be as relaxed as possible, which is why good breathing makes a big difference and being aware of your inhale and exhale pattern will help.
Stretching is something that will make a big difference in our lives. It can make us feel more flexible and dynamic, but it can also increase blood flow and increase our vitality. Something as simple as stretching on a regular basis will make a huge difference to every part of your daily life. Whether you are new to stretching, you are looking to start an exercise routine, or you have been trying to get more out of your health, a stretching routine that fits into your daily life will do a lot for your mind, body, and soul.