You know you should stretch, but are you often left feeling guilty because you neglect this aspect of your fitness regime? Well, maybe this blog will help shed some additional light on the major benefits of stretching and will inspire you to bump it up on your priority list!
There is a lot of information available on stretching. Much of this information is about the benefits of it, but there are some naysayers that question the effects of stretching. I will simplify and summarize by listing some of the main potential benefits of stretching.
For the Body:
- Help improve flexibility (flexibility defined as the range of motion available at a joint)
- Assist in correct posture by lengthening tight muscles that pull areas of the body away from their intended position (in our computer dominated world much of the world have tight chest muscles which often pull the shoulders and head forward, leaving us with that chin jutted out hunched shoulder look).
- Potential to decrease injury by preparing muscles for work before activity
- Increases blood and nutrient supply to muscles, thereby possibly reducing muscle soreness.
For the Mind:
- Even 10-15 minutes of stretching can provide a mental break and a chance to recharge the battery, so to speak
- Mind body classes (examples are yoga and BODYFLOW) offer participants a chance to spend an hour releasing tension physically and mentally
I realize there is a good chance that you were aware of many of these benefits, and so, at the end of your workout, you hold a few stretches for a few seconds each and hope that you have covered your basis. If this process is mentally important for you and it calms down your mind and offers a transition between your exercise and the day you are returning to, then great. It is important to note that a few seconds stretch will likely not reap the physical benefits listed above.
To help you benefit most from the stretching you do, here is a list of tips:
- Save time and skip the pre-workout stretch. What happens if you stretch a cold elastic band? Think of your muscles in the same way. They should be warm before you begin your stretching. Pre-workout or pre-game, your best strategy is to simulate the movements you will be doing in order to warm up and prepare your body.
- Focus on the muscles that need the most help. Instead of trying to stretch your whole body after every game or workout, focus on a key area of the body each time. Spend longer on each stretch and include more stretches for each area. You will likely benefit more from this strategy. If you are aware of muscles that are tight, then it makes sense to focus on those. Your goal is to stretch the muscle, not to force to a painful place. For the most part, stretching done at the end of activity will be static; meaning that you will hold a position and not bounce.
- Aim to include at least one long duration flexibility session each week. This is where mind body classes fit in beautifully. They allow you to completely focus on the lengthening action of the muscles and to take your time working them. Integrating this strategy will also provide you with the stress relieving benefits of this style of class and the positive effect it can have on your life.
So start incorporating stretching into your workout routine. For specific flexibility plans that work within a detailed training program, meeting with a professional Personal Trainer is definitely you best way to go.