From the time we were kids in gym class we have always been told to stretch before and after a workout, but most of us, not seeing the benefit of it or just simply being lazy, rarely do. Here is some information that may just get you stretching on a regular basis.
Why You Should Stretch
We all know that stretching can prevent injury and pain from a workout, but stretching also has so many day-to-day benefits that we are rarely told about.
The additional benefits of stretching are numerous:
Detox/Antidepressant/Muscle Strength: Stretching increases the amount of blood flow through the body. Increased blood flow removes toxins from the body at a faster rate, and increases the transfer of oxygen to your brain resulting in a clearer mind and a happier mood. Blood flow throughout the body to the muscles also becomes faster, increasing the strength and health of the muscles.
Anti-Stress/Relaxation: Stretching can help reduce anxiety and muscle tension, as well as lower blood pressure and breathing rate. A good stretching-and-breathing routine can be a great relaxation method, and can also help you sleep better.
Reducing Daily Aches and Pains: Carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder, and sitting or standing for long periods can cause tension and body misalignment, resulting in pain. Two great places to stretch are the glutes and spine. When you’re sitting, the nerves that activate your glutes can shut down in a very short period of time. When your glutes shut down, other muscles and joints in your body become over-stressed and can result in pain in places such as the knees and lower back. Stretching your glutes and hip flexors is a good first step to wake up these muscles and reduce future injury and pain. Simple rotational stretches of the spine throughout the day are extremely important if you drive, sit, or just stay in one place for a few hours of the day.
Other benefits are: improved range of motion of joints, improved posture, and even lowering of cholesterol.
When Should You Do It?
Stretching when you muscles are cold can cause major injury. It is advised to only stretch after the body has been properly warmed up. Examples of a good warm up are 5-10 minutes of jogging in place, moderately energetic walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bicycle, or doing less-vigorous rehearsals of the sport or exercise you’re about to perform.
How To Do It
Pavel Tsatsouline explains it best in his book Relax into Stretch:
“Get in a comfortably stretched position and stay in it until your muscles relax. It usually takes a couple of minutes—although timing yourself is a decidedly bad idea. The relaxation time will vary greatly depending on your training level, fatigue, stress, the given muscle group, and many other variables. Just listen to your body. Once the muscle has relaxed, increase the stretch. Your muscles will tighten up again. One more time, wait the tension out. Breathe deep, easy, and slow. Repeat until you are close to getting spasms.”
The thing to remember is don’t force the stretch. Stretch through a muscle’s full range of movement until you feel resistance, but not pain. NEVER bounce through a stretch. A good 10-20 minute long stretch session, 3 times a week can be a great benefit to your body. Remember, stretching should feel good. You should stretch to the point of mild discomfort, at most, and then ease up.
Resources: Foundation for Wellness, Shape Magazine