The overlooked benefits of stretching – You will be amazed when you try it.
Let’s face it – stretching is the least glamorous and the most overlooked part of your workout. You probably hear mixed messages around stretching and whether it’s all a bit outdated now. Some professionals prioritise so called mobility techniques and using foam rollers, but I’m still a big fan of stretching and in this article I’m going to discuss the amazing health benefits of stretching!
This might seem obvious but a well-designed stretching routine is the best way to improve flexibility. Because most of my clients work desk jobs, they tend to have problems with muscle stiffness, back pain, and headaches that can all be tracked down to poor flexibility. Having a sedentary lifestyle means that over the years you will see your flexibility decrease much more than it naturally would for an active person.
Low flexibility means a smaller range of motion, less effective workouts, and a higher risk of injury. The stiffness in your neck muscles can lead to a poor circulation to your brain which then translates into excruciating headaches. Finally, as you get older, you are more likely to experience postural problems which is why I always encourage my clients to do plenty of stretches to free up their lower back and hips as they can effectively prevent lower back pain with the correct approach.
Improved Blood Flow
When you perform dynamic stretches before a workout, you increase the blood flow to your muscles. This improves performance significantly and it also reduces the soreness afterwards. The benefits of improved circulation go even beyond that. It also promotes cell growth, function, and recovery in your muscles even post-workout. Not to mention that an increased blood flow is great for your brain and it will boost mood and productivity throughout your day.
Stretching can be a powerful way to decompress. I usually tell my clients to always stretch after a long day, even if they don’t do any other workout. Stretching helps you tune back into what your body is telling you. When you are busy, you can often get too worked up about all the things you need to achieve. A nice stretch once you are back from work allows you to unwind and notice those tight spots in your body that have developed throughout the day and to work on releasing that tension.
Stretching lengthens your muscles and soothes the tension buildup. When your muscles are more flexible, they are less likely to pull you into unnatural positions. An example I like to give for this are the muscles in your shoulder region. The ones responsible for rolling the shoulder inward are much stronger than those that roll it back. In some athletes, the muscle imbalance causes a visible change in posture.
Even if you are far from that point, chances are you still have your shoulders more hunched than they should be. This can be helped quite easily with a few stretching and lengthening exercises. An improved posture can prevent so many health issues and it will even make you feel more confident and productive.
How to Build a Stretching Routine?
Not all stretching exercises were created equal. There are numerous different stretches you can incorporate into your routine. When I work with clients, I always customise their stretching routines to their particular needs and goals. However, even if you are not working with a professional trainer, you can build a basic set of stretches that works for you. Here are the main types of stretches to include:
Static stretching is your most basic sort of a stretch. You extend the muscles as much as you can and maintain the position for at least 30 seconds. If you are using an outside force to help with the stretch, then this is passive static stretching. This outside force could be anything from gravity, to an elastic strap, or even a partner. Active static stretching is when you are contracting the muscles that do the opposite movement to the ones you want to stretch. For instance, if you contract your triceps, your bicep will stretch.
Static stretching is perfect as a cool-down exercise. After a workout, your muscles are warm and very elastic. If you continuously challenge yourself with stretches after a workout, over time you will see a very impressive increase in your flexibility as well as overall performance.
Dynamic stretching is geared around sports specific training and all about controlled movement through an exercise that mimics what you will do during the rest of your workout. I tell my clients to focus on control rather than speed when they are doing these stretches. The point here is to condition your muscles to maintain proper form as well as to improve range of motion, circulation, and mobility.
Some of my favourite dynamic stretches before a workout are twisted lunges, inchworms, and variations on the sun salutation. On rest days, I recommend doing relaxing yoga flows as they provide great full-body dynamic stretching.
When Should You Stretch?
Whenever you feel that you need it. Stretching comes naturally to animals and humans alike. Stretch right after waking up, when you start to feel stiff at your desk, and definitely before and after your training sessions. Stretching in some way will always make you feel better and if anything makes you happy do more of it!
If you have any questions about stretching please leave them in the comments below.