If I had one piece of advice to give my younger self it would be to make stretching part of your routine if you want to boost your fitness performance. Over the years I have realized that my body doesn’t recover or perform the way it used to and I need all the help I can get. Once I started stretching, my fitness improved, proving to be a game-changer for me.
So how can stretching help you crush your workouts and get you better results? Stretching can improve your range of motion, improve circulation and blood flow, help decrease muscle soreness, prevent injury, relieve stress, and improve posture. Let’s dive in a bit more.
When your range of motion is limited it will be more difficult for you to go deeper in certain exercises. You are also likely not engaging the muscles as effectively. For example, many of us might not be getting the most out of a squat or a lunge simply because our range of motion is shortened. When you stretch your muscles you are helping them to become more fluid, to “lengthen” and this helps boost your flexibility allowing you increased freedom of movement. So you get more out of each exercise and gain better results.
When you stretch regularly you can also improve your circulation which increases blood flow to your muscles. When this happens you shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness as well. Many of us experience a delayed soreness in our muscles, known as DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). So you might not feel it the same day of a workout, but the next day or even two days later you can barely move. The more you can improve your recovery time, the more your body is ready to tackle your next workout without soreness holding you back.
And this brings us to another very important benefit of stretching, preventing injury. When our bodies are tight and feeling sore we are more likely to injure ourselves. The tightness limits our range of motion causing you to strain your muscles, especially your back. So many of us struggle with back pain unaware of how much we rely on these muscles throughout our day. If you keep straining these muscles over time you will experience an injury. Injury prevention is key to helping you stay consistent with your fitness while helping you progress and reach your goals.
Now let’s talk about stress. Given all that we are living through right now in this pandemic, it is something that we cannot avoid. But, by including stretching in your overall wellness routine, you can help reduce the stress that builds up tension in your muscles, joints, ligaments, etc. Think about how your neck or shoulders feel after you have been sitting at a computer for hours on back-to-back zoom calls. You probably feel tight! You might not even notice how this affects your posture due to common muscle imbalances, the likeliest cause of poor posture. Several studies have found that combining strengthening and stretching targeted muscle groups can reduce musculoskeletal pain and encourage proper alignment. Having proper alignment is so important to ensure you are performing exercises correctly.
One of the biggest reasons I hear that people do not stretch is lack of time. But, stretching doesn’t have to be an hour-long commitment either. Just commit to 5 to 10 minutes daily over time and you should see an improvement. Another reason people skip stretching is that they don’t know what to do. There are several types of stretching including dynamic, static, passive, and active stretching. The most common forms are static and dynamic. Static stretching involves holding a stretch between 10 and 30 seconds in a comfortable position. This form of stretching is most beneficial after you exercise. Dynamic stretching is most helpful as a warm-up because they are active movements that cause your muscles to stretch, but you do not hold the stretch in the end position.
If you are ready to incorporate stretching into your routine my biggest advice is to take it slow. Your body needs time to respond to the stretches you are doing. Be patient and know that with time you will reap all the benefits. I highly recommend focusing on major areas of mobility such as hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors, but also pay attention to your shoulders, neck, and back. There are a few things you should always keep in mind when stretching. Do not stretch beyond the point of comfort, do your best not to bounce in your movements, do not overdo it, and do not perform any stretching without a proper warm-up. Always be safe and take any necessary precautions if you have an existing or chronic injury.
Whether you are a seasoned athlete or just getting started incorporating stretching into your health and wellness routine can improve your overall fitness performance. And it can also help you experience additional side effects such as improved posture and decreased stress and risk of injury.