If you hark back to your first PE class in elementary school, you will remember being taught that stretching is important to improve circulation and prevent injury. There are many other benefits of stretching, which is why you should make it a part of your everyday routine. This is not the sluggish yawn-and-stretch that you do when you get out of bed. There is more to stretching than putting your hands up in the air for a few seconds.
The modern lifestyle is such that people spend most of their time sitting down, be it at work, at home or even in the park. It may sound harmless, but some risks are associated with it, such as increased chances of developing type 2 diabetes, ruining your posture, and tightening your hip flexor muscles. That alone is enough to scare you into action and make stretching part and parcel of your daily routine.
Stretching is not a warm-up activity
The common notion is that stretching ought to be done before a workout. This is not necessarily true because stretching with cold muscles can cause injury. It should be done when muscles are warm, for example, after a small bout of physical activity. However, if you want to stretch before doing vigorous exercise, you can choose to take a walk or jog to warm up your muscles. After that, you can begin stretching then start doing your workout (11).
Focus on tight muscles
Muscles are made tight by stress and soreness. These muscles should be the first to focus on to increase blood flow to them and reduce tension. Once they are stretched, movement becomes easier, and soreness is reduced.
Bouncing during a stretching exercise can create micro-tears in the muscles leading to scar tissue. This tissue can tighten the muscle further, thus reducing flexibility and increasing soreness. Therefore, stretching should be done for 15 to 60 seconds and repeated three or four times. However, the period you opt to spend is dependent on how sore you are or the muscles you are aiming at focusing on. (1).
Stretch at least 2-3 days per week for a minimum of 10 minutes a day
Stretching does not have to take too much of your time. If you devote only 10 minutes out of your entire day to stretching, you can get maximum benefits. Stretching on an irregular schedule will make it difficult for your body to maintain a consistent motion range.
Do not stretch beyond the comfort zone
It is normal to experience some tension when stretching a muscle, but you should learn to distinguish between tension and pain. At the slightest indication of pain, you should back off until the discomfort is eliminated.
Don’t overdo it
Stretching is a physical exercise like any other, and as such, it puts stress on your body. It is easy to get addicted to stretching especially if you are enjoying it. However, stretching the same muscle groups multiple times a day increases the risk of overstretching and causing damage (12).
There are several stretching techniques such as dynamic, static, active, passive, PNF, and ballistic. Static and dynamic are the two most common stretching techniques used (1).
Static stretching technique
Static stretches involve holding a stretch in a comfortable position for a duration that can range between 10 and 30 seconds. This technique is most beneficial when applied after an exercise because it helps reduce the risk of injury.
Dynamic stretching technique
Dynamic stretches refer to the active movements that make body muscles stretch, but the stretch is not held in the end position. Such stretches are good before exercises because they ready your muscles for movement (7).
That said, the benefits of static stretching do not outweigh those of dynamic stretching. Both stretching techniques are equally important and have their role in ensuring that your muscles are fit before or after an exercise.
This is the short form for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. PNF involves the stretching of your muscles, isometrically contracting it by squeezing the muscle without moving the limb and lastly stretching it again.
In ballistic stretching, the muscle is lengthened to a point of causing mild discomfort. It uses the momentum of a moving body or limb in an attempt to force it beyond its normal range of motion.
How To Start A Stretching Routine?
Just like any other form of exercise or even physical activity, those who are new must take it slow in the beginning and then increase the intensity with time. The human body requires time to adjust and get used to the new stretches you will be performing.
In addition to exercising caution, you must have a proper grasp of stretching form and technique. Failure to do that can result in injury. Stretching can be done at any time of the day, but on days you exercise:
- Try to have between 5 and 10 minutes of dynamic stretching just before your activity.
- Perform another 5 to 10 minutes of static stretching after finishing your workout.
When you are resting from exercise, make sure that your schedule has a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes of stretching time. This is important for boosting flexibility and reducing muscle tightness and pain.
During the stretching exercise, emphasize the major areas of your body that aid mobility such as your calves, hip flexors, hamstrings and quadriceps. When it comes to upper body relief, attempt those moves that stretch the shoulders, neck and lower back. Avoid bouncing at all costs! Each stretch should last for about 30 seconds (6).
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Benefits Of Stretching
The benefits of stretching are vast, so exercises such as yoga and pilates are based on stretching. Broadly, there are two categories of the benefits of stretching. What are two benefits of daily stretching? They can be separated into two camps: physical benefits and mental benefits. If stretching was not so important, you wouldn’t see athletes stretching before and after any physical activity.
So, without further ado, what are the benefits of stretching?
Stretching is part and parcel of yoga and hence the question, what are the benefits of stretching yoga? If you develop the habit of stretching regularly, then one of the benefits you will reap is the increase in your flexibility and range of motion. This is because stretching makes your muscles looser, and they slowly gain length over time. Having muscles that are looser, more limber and longer leads to more flexibility simply because your muscles can now stretch out longer than they used to before (8).
The increased range of motion resulting from more flexibility will ultimately lead to increased physical output and performance. It does not just stop there because more flexibility is crucial for a plethora of reasons other than increasing physical performance. For instance, being more flexible can help a person to move faster, relieve daily pains, lift more, and even reduce the chances of suffering from injuries.
Slipping, falling, and spraining a muscle or joint can be avoided if a person has stretched out muscles. Furthermore, when one is more flexible, he/she will require less energy to complete any particular motion, which is beneficial because that person will save much-needed energy for other equally important tasks.
One of the advantages of stretching before and after exercising is a better posture. Stretching can greatly improve your posture. Bad posture is mostly caused by tight muscles that pull a person’s body away from its intended natural position. The question then becomes, how long does it take to see the benefits of stretching? Some of its benefits, like achieving a better posture, may take a while to manifest themselves, but energy levels rising can be noticed earlier (13).
Stretching works by helping limber up your muscles, keeping them loose in the process, and ultimately keeping your body in the position it is supposed to be in. The problem with tight muscles is hunching your body. This may limit your mobility, cause serious pain, and even make you walk in a funny way.
When you stretch your chest, shoulders and back, your body muscles will limber up and by doing so it will help keep your spine in its proper alignment. It is also important to relieve aches and pains associated with straining from tight muscles. In addition to that, it helps reduce the desire to slouch. Just a small amount of stretching can be what makes you straighter and a little taller.
Increased your energy levels
No one likes to be exhausted after doing even the smallest of physical activity. So, what are the benefits of static stretching when you are feeling tired? You can increase your energy levels by stretching regularly. First, by stretching, you can increase blood circulation in your entire body, including your brain. If more blood is flowing to your brain, then it will make you more alert. It also increases the ability of your brain to produce more beneficial neurochemicals. These two things contribute to making you feel more energetic (3).
When a person feels tired, it results in body muscles tightening and then the person will feel lethargic. Sore and stiff muscles can be responsible for feeling tired. If you feel tired, try to get up and stretch a bit to get the blood flowing and loosen up your muscles in the process, which is a quick way to get your energy boosted.
Your stamina and overall physical endurance can be improved greatly by regular stretching. Being stiff will only require more energy to accomplish any task that calls for physical movement. On the other hand, being limber will require you a lot less energy to do more physical activity. Your body’s physical endurance can also be enhanced when muscle fatigue is relieved, and the amount of blood flowing to the muscles increases due to stretching (5).
Improved circulation and the increase in the amount of blood flowing to your body muscles implies that more oxygen, minerals, and proteins will flow to your muscles as well. An increased supply of the above will only make your muscles work harder and longer than usual.
Better blood circulation and recovery time
Improved blood circulation is one of the obvious benefits of stretching when you wake up. Your muscles’ physical performance is increased when there is more blood flowing to them because they can access more oxygen. With more oxygen, the muscles recover more quickly from exhaustion.
Engaging in hardcore physical activities such as lifting weights forces your muscles to have micro-tears. The tiny tears can heal by themselves, and in the process, more muscle tissue is created, eventually increasing the size of your muscles. The challenge here is that there must be recovery time for those muscles to heal (2).
If there is no recovery time, engaging in more physical activity will increase the number of those micro-tears. This can damage and degrade your muscles beyond repair. Your muscles require the blood’s nutrients to recover quickly, which is why blood circulation is important.
Increased blood circulation is good in many other ways, such as helping other body organs function more efficiently. Most importantly, when blood circulation is good, the blood pressure is lowered, and the heart does not have to work hard in pumping blood around the body.
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Reduced risk of injury
If you do your stretching routine correctly, you will be less likely to get injured. When your muscles are flexible, the risk of injuries such as pulled or tight muscles is reduced. Exercising without first stretching is a big risk because your muscles are probably tight, not very limber, and most definitely unable to achieve their full range of motion. Exercising in that condition can lead to a pull or a tear.
Limber muscles will give you a wider range of motion and more flexibility, decreasing the risk of pulling or tearing your muscle. Stretching is not only helpful during exercises but can also be very useful in everyday life activities. Running up a flight of stairs too fast or stretching too hard when getting out of bed can injure your muscles, but this can be avoided by regular stretching (12).
High levels of cholesterol can be fatal to your health, especially if it is bad cholesterol. One of the top benefits of stretching daily is that it reduces cholesterol levels in your veins and arteries. Furthermore, stretching can lower your blood pressure. High blood pressure makes your arteries stretch too far, and this can cause slight tearing in the arteries. The resulting spaces make ideal places for cholesterol to build up.
Lower blood pressure translates to less of those little tears of arteries. There will not be too many places in your arteries where cholesterol can build up when there are fewer tears. When blood circulation is good, blood will flow faster, which makes it difficult for cholesterol to build up (4).
Stretching on a routine basis can help your body improve its ability to balance. This is because stretching goes a long way in improving fine muscle coordination and increasing the reaction time of the body’s proprioceptors. Those elements are the ones that cause your balance to shift weight to achieve balance.
Of the many benefits of stretching at work is happiness. Feeling happy contributes a lot to creating a positive working environment. In itself, stretching is a light form of exercise, and as a result, it contributes to promoting the production of endorphins.
During exercise, your brain increases the production of many neurochemicals, including serotonin which is responsible for producing feelings of happiness, joy, and elation. Apart from making you feel happier, serotonin is also quite helpful in dealing with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Pain reduction is one of the benefits of stretching after a workout. Muscle pain can be a result of pushing over your limit or lifting too much weight and causing micro-tears. As the number of micro-tears increases, it leads to muscle soreness and fatigue. Stretching makes muscles lose and lean, thus alleviating the pain associated with tight muscles (10).
When Is Stretching Not Safe?
Stretching may not always be safe, especially:
- For people with an acute or pre-existing injury. Such people should only perform the stretches that have been recommended by their doctors.
- For people who have a chronic or nagging injury. They should seek a sports medicine specialist or physical therapist’s advice to come up with a stretching protocol based on their situation (9).
- For people with any physical limitations that may prevent them from properly doing a stretching exercise. They should also consult a doctor for alternative exercises that can help increase the flexibility of their muscles.
Stretching is an important practice that you should add to your daily routine. Even if you don’t have a regular and vigorous exercising routine, it is vital to incorporate it to attain the benefits of stretching for your mind and body.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Current Concepts In Muscle Stretching For Exercise And Rehabilitation (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Daily muscle stretching enhances blood flow, endothelial function, capillarity, vascular volume and connectivity in aged skeletal muscle (2018, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity (2019, mayoclinic.org)
- Exercises to Control Your Cholesterol (2012, webmd.com)
- Four Types of Exercise Can Improve Your Health and Physical Ability (2020, nia.nih.gov)
- How do you strengthen hip flexors? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- New Ideas on Proper Stretching Techniques (2010, webmd.com)
- Stretching: Focus on flexibility (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Stretching and injury prevention: an obscure relationship (2004, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise (2011, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The effect of warm-ups with stretching on the isokinetic moments of collegiate men (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The importance of stretching (2019, health.harvard.edu)
- Tips to improve posture (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)