Stretching is the last thing we think about in a day when you have to get up and about and get moving. You want to get that workout in, but only have a set amount of time, to the minute! There is no time for a pre workout stretch and forget about a post workout stretch! But in reality, it is very beneficial for you to fit both of those in. And the days that are your "rest" days, it is important to get a stretch in as well. There are so many benefits to stretching that can improve our overall health. The best part is, although you can use stretching bands or props to help you, it really does not take any extraequipment on your part - it just takes some time and a little space.
Stretching will help with flexibility and prevent injury
Think of your tendons (tissue that attaches muscle to bone) and ligaments (tissue that attaches bone to bone) as stretching bands, or as rubberbands. If they are not used to their maximum, then they have a tendency to stay at that smaller length. As you stretch the tendons, this in turn trains them to be more pliable and have more flexibility. Thus when you do tax your tendons and ligaments when exercising, they are able to adapt. Think of how rubberbands stretch under tension then contract after reliease; they can be flexible in times of tension and therefore reduce the tendency to snap and instead elongate and adapt to your activity. In addition, it helps with balance. As you stretch your ligaments, your joints are getting proprioception training as well. Proprioception allows your body to know where you are in space and is able to use that knowledge to keep balance. So if you walk on an uneven surface, your body can adjust quickly and recover to prevent slipping or falling.
Improve your range of motion
As we get older, our joints feel more stiff. As young kids, we could bounce all over the place and not feel a thing. Now, the stiffness sets in especially when we wake up in the morning or get up after long periods of sitting in front of a computer or at a desk at work. This is not in our heads; in fact due to the decrease in flexibility as time goes on, it is important to stretch out in order to maintain and even restore your range of motion. If you don't use it, you lose it, as they say, and this is a perfect example. As you stretch, this trains the muscles and tendons to keep that extended length and flexibility. Therefore, the range of motion is maintained even if you don't always use that motion. Once you stop using that motion, the contraction sets in and it is very difficult, but not impossible, to obtain again. You can eventually restore range of motion, however it is better to prevent its loss in the first place with stretching techniques.
Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles, tendons, and ligaments
Before any type of exercise, you want to make sure that there is more than adequate blood flow to the area. How can we do this? By stretching, you are signaling your body to increase bloodflow to the area before any more intense activity starts. Gentle activity like stretching introduces the body slowly to prepare for any more rigorous activity you may do later.
Stretching will alleviate stress
Stress causes muscle to tense up. We all feel the tightness and tension in our shoulders and in our back after a very stressful day! Tightness can also cause bad posture in your upper body and we have to work harder to correct that posture to prevent other long term effects. Due to tension, this can also affect our posture. Sometimes the tension can be so overwhelming that it manifests itself as pain. Pain causes a vasoconstriction, or contracting, of the blood vessels in the area causing a decrease in blood flow. Stretching can alleviate tension and decrease strain on the body. In turn, this will manifest itself in loosening the tendons and thus feel less tight and more flexible, and in the end, decrease pain.
Tips on Stretching
It is a good idea to do some sort of active warm up before a stretch, this can be simply taking a brisk walk or doing knee lifts in place, or marching in place. Physical therapist agree that a dynamic stretch is preferable to a static stretch before an activity. You don't want to do a static stretch "cold turkey" without first warming up your lower extremity with some sort of activity to start the blood flow ot the muscles. For a static stretch, stretch to the desired position where you can feel the pull, but it should not be painful. Hold this position for a few seconds, then release. You should not bounce to try to extend the stretch. For a dynamic stretch, you can use momentum or gravity to slowly increase the stretch. Again, it should never be painful, but instead slow and steady with a feeling of relief. If your body is already "warmed up" before an exercise or activity, it allows your body to more efficiently burn calories. At the end of a workout, it will curb soreness and decrease the lactic acid buildup in the muscles that causes that feeling of soreness.
When is the best time to stretch?
People are under the impression that stretching should really only be performed around exercise or activity, with the emphasis on stretching before or after exercising. In reality, it is a good idea to stretch even when you are not preparing to perform any high intensity workout. Stretching first thing in the morning can alleviate any stiffness that has occurred overnight and get the blood flowing to the upper and lower limbs before an active day. On the other hand, stretching at the end of the day before bedtime can soothe aching muscles and joints that have been under stress and strain the whole day, causing relaxation and alleviating discomfort before bedtime. In the middle of a work day, you can take a few minutes to do some stretching exercises at your desk or behind your chair for the same benefits. Even sitting at you desk, stretching out your arms, shoulders, and neck can give you that boost to continue with the day. In addition, think of adding simple yoga positions that can easily be repeated.
Stretching only takes a few minutes, and it is truly a win-win. In addition, there is is no right or wrong time to stretch, whether you are an avid exerciser or just someone trying to keep active and healthy, the benefits of stretching are well worth the time. All you need is a little space and a little motivation and you will feel the benefits of stretching.