You must have heard this insistence from every personal trainer, class instructor, and fitness expert repeatedly: you have to stretch before and after a workout (for example, running), however short. Even when not working out, stretching is a highly recommended activity. So, why is a stretching routine important?
Simply put, stretching warms up our muscles; it prepares them for the physical activity we’re about to perform and cools them afterward. No matter the workout routine, stretching is still strongly advised, even as you initiate an exercise such as yoga, which involves even more stretching! It is all the more relevant if you work from home because it keeps your body flexible.
Having a reliable stretching routine can prevent you from pulling a muscle when exercising or exerting yourself beyond your physical capacity. Importantly, stretching prevents your muscles from getting stiff when not exercising them, and it maintains a good range of motion in your joints.
The Importance of Stretching Before and After Exercise
If your ultimate goal is to lose weight, exercise is an essential component of any plan; it complements a healthy diet and helps prepare and heal the body before and after weight-loss surgery, respectively. Stretching should precede and follow all exercise. Remember, physical activity promotes blood circulation, which positively affects brain function and mood.
A proper stretching routine is vital for awakening your body and getting it ready to engage in any type of activity that will help you realize your health-related goals. And the best part is that stretching is good for everyone!
Beginning and ending workouts with stretching routines protects mobility by warming up the muscles and joints that facilitate movement. If you don’t stretch, joints can become like knots when the surrounding muscles, skin, tendons, and tissues tighten. These contractures can evolve into injuries.
Damage to your muscles can go from a simple ache to mild pain or strain, all the way to deformity. The same adverse effects can manifest in your joints. Healthy muscles are long, lean, and flexible; conditions that permit exertion and aid with balance. Regular stretching conserves muscle health.
Adopting a stretching routine, performing it frequently, and being consistent will put you on the path to ultimate flexibility. However, as is the case with taking up running, it needs to happen gradually. Be careful not to reach too far and push too hard all at once. Proper execution is crucial when it comes to stretching, and that means not overdoing it!
How to Start A Stretching Routine
To begin stretching, focus on the areas critical for mobility, namely, the lower extremities and lower back. They are calves, hamstrings, hip flexors (pelvis), and quadriceps (front thigh). To ease computer work-related tension, stretch the neck and shoulders.
Once you familiarize yourself with the correct form and get the technique right, set aside five or even 10 minutes for stretching both before and after working out.
You can benefit significantly from stretching three or four times a week, and adopting a daily routine is the best conditioning you can provide for your muscles. Stretching will even improve your posture! Take it one step further by working with a physical therapist if you deal with chronic muscle pain.
Your doctor should clear a personalized stretching program if you have arthritis or Parkinson’s disease.
Best Stretching Techniques
When implementing a stretching routine, the first step is to determine the current state of your muscles. Identify any soreness or injuries and set up a combination of stretches according to your immediate needs. Your stretching routine should also fit your workout routine. Remember not to overwork tense muscles.
Here is a list of the main styles of stretching and a short description of the technique for each.
- Dynamic: Stretching through active movements. Ideal before exercise to prepare muscles for action.
- Static: Holding stretches in comfortable positions. Ideal after exercise to reduce injury risks.
- Passive: Holding the stretch for longer, sometimes with the help of a partner. This method uses accessories, props, walls.
- Active: Flexing and extending the muscles without applying external force, thus preventing contractions.
- PNF stretching: Stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, which stretches muscles to their limit.
- Ballistic: An intense method that uses bouncing movements. It isn’t recommended anymore unless your doctor prescribes it.
Risks and Safety Tips
Generally speaking, you should avoid movements that activate the type of protective reflexes that are counterproductive for stretching. More specifically, existing injuries that are intensely acute or chronic need prior evaluation by a sports medicine specialist to determine whether there are any physical limitations.
To make sure you don’t get hurt while stretching, remember to warm up your muscles first (with cardio) and not stretch the same muscle groups repeatedly or beyond what is comfortable. Also important to remember is that both sides of the body need to be stretched equally.
A gentle way to get your muscles accustomed to stretching and gradual activation is through movements like yoga or tai chi. You can perform quick and simple stretches (like standing toe touches or the seated spine twist) between work tasks when you’ve been sitting for too long.
Beyond those considerations, stretching is not only safe but highly beneficial, especially as an investment in your future, because we lose flexibility as we age. Stretching regularly will:
- Increase flexibility, range of motion, and blood flow to the muscles.
- Improve performance, posture, circulation, and sleep.
- Decrease back pain, stress levels, anxiety, and tension-related headaches.
- Provide your mind with a mental break. As you release tension, you will ease into a peaceful mindset.