Why is everyone stretching - Importance of stretching

Feeling a little rusty lately? Are those top shelves starting to feel higher than usual? Does walking seem more troublesome than usual? 

If the answer is yes to any of those questions, you might want to think about including a few minutes of stretching exercises in your day. Read this article to find out the benefits of stretching and get a dozen tips on how to do it.

Why Is Everyone Stretching - Importance of Stretching

The most talked-about physical activity that comes with plenty of benefits and won't tire you out as much as a full workout is stretching. We're sure that there are many moments in a day when you find yourself in the middle of a subconscious stretch, arms as far up in the air as possible and maybe you're even shaking your legs a bit, and this tends to happen especially in the morning. The reason for this action, which is called pandiculating, is that when we're asleep our muscles get looser and allow for the fluids to gather at our back, and our body has the instinctive need to push it back where it belongs and rearrange the muscles first thing in the morning with the help of a stretch.

But there's more to stretching than just that, so keep reading to see why it's important, how to start introducing it into your routine, benefits, and tips for a great performance.

What makes stretching so important?

Other than acting as a beginning of the day booster, it's important to practice stretching because:

  • • It keeps your muscles flexible and strong. When you're consistent and train your muscles to bend and hold themselves into different positions for a certain amount of time, you'll find that they become more flexible and your daily movements feel much easier to do.
  • • Flexibility goes hand in hand with the joints' Range Of Motion (ROM), and they can help you with improved physical performance. If you have very flexible muscles, they will allow you to move your limbs in a wider range around the joints.

These aspects make stretching extremely beneficial for athletes, people who work out often, and people who use their body muscles excessively during the day.

What happens if I don't stretch?

If this activity is glazed over, in time you'll find that movements that were initially a breeze start to seem more and more exerting. Without constant movement, muscles tend to tighten and so they become shorter. A good example would be that if you have a job that requires you to sit at a desk or drive for a long time, your hamstrings take the blow because they go dormant and 'forget' to extend as they used to during basic movements (e.g. Walking, climbing, etc.). Another situation in which the lack of movement will be noticeable is when you try reaching for the top shelf in the supermarket and your arm doesn't cooperate anymore.

Easing your way back into movement

Sudden strenuous activity after long periods of inactivity can lead to overworking a weak muscle, leading to strains or tears, and finally causing joint injury because an affected muscle cannot properly support a joint. This should be enough to make you consider adding stretching into your schedule at any time because it's never too late to try getting your old abilities back. Strong muscles also aid with balance and stability, but getting back into exercising, if you haven’t done it in a while, can prove to be challenging, which is why you can employ the help of a stretch trainer for an instance like this. This piece of equipment can help your body fall into position way more easily and reach more muscles than you normally would if you were trying to bend all at once from your first day of stretching. You’ll get a better idea of what to do and you can choose from a whole body trainer that can focus on bending you in all the right ways and stretching your muscles all the way, or a trainer that focuses only on a few certain positions (only upper body, for example) to help you hold a better posture. And the best part, if you happen to be exercising alone, you won’t need a second person to help you.

Where do I start?

A good stretching session doesn't necessarily mean a full-body one in which you include every muscle you can find in the anatomy books. It can simply mean tending to those muscles that are used frequently and need just a bit of help to keep things working smoothly. Your neck, shoulders, arms, thighs, and calves are the areas on which you should have the initial focus, and over time you can expand to the larger groups, too. Try to do so at least 3 or 4 days out of the week for consistent results. If you happen to suffer from a condition that doesn't allow you to practice safely, talk to a doctor and carve out a special regimen together.

Don't mistake it for a Warm-Up

For a very long time, it has been believed that stretching and warm-up are synonymous, but it turns out that it's not really the case. As stretching implies extending your muscles as far as they can go, if they are 'cold' or haven't moved much before you begin, you risk hurting them. A good practice would involve doing light movements beforehand, such as walking briskly for 5 to 10 minutes. After that's done you can go ahead with the initial plan. But keep in mind that consistency is key because months or years of inactivity can't be solved with just one week of stretching. As a rule of thumb try to remember this:

*When you have a workout scheduled: 5-10 minutes of Dynamic stretching before, and 5-10 minutes of PNF or Static stretching after

*When you don't have a workout scheduled: 5-10 minutes of Static or Passive stretching

Stretching techniques

The different techniques you could do are:

  • • Passive
  • • Static
  • • Active
  • • Dynamic
  • • PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation)
  • • Ballistic

But the most commonly performed ones are:

  • • Dynamic – This technique is considered to be the 'Warm-Up' one because it's mainly done before a strenuous activity (workout, run, etc.). It implies movements that stretch the muscles, but that doesn't have to be held to the maximum. It is a controlled method and it prepares your body by heating it up and cutting down on stiffness.

Examples: Torso twists, walking lunges, leg swings, etc.

  • • Static – This is mainly used for cooling down after the strenuous activities mentioned earlier. It implies holding a stretch as far as possible (while still being comfortable) for 10 to 30 seconds at a time. This means that you're making use of your ROM, adding flexibility, and protecting your muscles from future injuries. If you were to do this technique before intense activities, you'd risk cutting down on your body's quick reaction time.

Examples: Posterior Capsule/Hamstring/Quadriceps stretches

Benefits

What you can look forward to if you keep a consistent stretching routine is:

  1. Extra Flexibility – as mentioned multiple times already, you'll get stronger and more flexible muscles that can lead to fewer injuries from either mundane or intense activities and can also stall age-related mobility reduction
  2. Wider Range of Movement – with wider ROM you get more movement freedom and, to achieve this quickly, the PNF technique should be your focus
  3. Higher Performance – if you're using the dynamic technique before workouts, you'll find that you can reach a higher overall performance
  4. Better Blood Flow – moving your muscles around, as opposed to letting them go dormant, will assure better circulation, thus giving your muscles plenty of nourishment to acquire abilities related to recovering faster and avoiding intense soreness (DOMS)
  5. Better Posture – to have a good muscle alignment you'll need to practice a combination of stretching and strengthening activities
  6. Less pain & Faster healing – as injuries are mainly caused by a sudden movement of the unprepared muscles, stretching (lightly) will help your aches and injuries go away little by little as your body remembers how to move properly (tightness of muscles in the lower body can cause low back pain)
  7. No more headaches – stretching can ease tension headaches if you mix it with healthy meals, hydration, and abundant rest
  8. Better Balance – seeing how the spine is supported by stabilizer muscles, stretching them, and not allowing them to tighten can improve balance and reduce the risk of falling, especially in older people
  9. Stress-free – stress naturally causes tight muscles, and those tend to buildup in areas of the upper body, so stretching can be a helpful tool when you're trying to relieve tension (combine it with meditation exercises for the best results
  10. Relaxation – you'll simply feel good after a nice stretch and you might even have an easier time falling asleep

Tips

  1. You shouldn't bounce unless you are purposefully performing stretches with the ballistic technique (recommended by your therapist or doctor).
  2. Avoid going past the point of comfort. If you start feeling back, go back to the point where the position feels comfortable.
  3. Avoid over-stretching. Doing these types of exercises too often in a day can lead to injury since you are over-using your muscles. If you develop an injury, have an existing one, experience chronic or incessant pain, or other limitations that stop you from a proper performance, discuss with your physical therapist or doctor to find the best solution.
  4. Warm-up before. Do some active walking for 5-10 minutes before engaging in stretching.
  5. Don't hold your breath. It might seem as if it helps, but you should do is breathe evenly into your exercises to sink deeper and ease tightness.
  6. Try to be symmetric. Don't think only about increasing your flexibility and try to also focus on having equal movement range on either side of your body.
  7. Target major muscles. Those in your legs, neck, lower and upper back, and also your joints should be your focus point, especially in the beginning.
  8. Hold it. For as long as you can, without causing pain, try holding the positions so that your body has time to adjust. You can up the time with each week that passes but try to hold longer when you're working on problem areas.
  9. Customize. If you happen to be practicing a certain sport, try molding the stretching exercises so that you target the areas used often.
  10. Make combinations with different practices. Yoga or Tai Chi could be a good way of leveling up your exercises.
  11. Don't forget the abs. Try to always engage your core muscles during this practice so that your back can be safe.
  12. Don't skip stretch-day. The more you keep a routine, the more you'll see results in your everyday life.

Bottom Line

Whether you keep active all day long or lead a sedentary lifestyle, a little bit of stretching can be nothing but beneficial. As long as you follow the tips we've enumerated, you're going to start increasing your flexibility faster than you'd think.

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