Stretching. We know it’s good for us. We all know we should be doing it. But do you know all the benefits of a post-workout stretch? Did you know that taking the time to stretch does so much more than just increase flexibility? Read on for ten of the most important benefits of stretching.
This one’s a no-brainer. The more you stretch, the longer your muscles become, the better you move, and the looser you feel.Bye bye, stiff neck!
Reduces Post-Workout Recovery Time
While there has been some debate as to the effectiveness of stretching on reducing muscle soreness and lactic acid buildup, there is still a great deal of evidence to suggest that stretching AFTER a workout reduces recovery time as it helps the muscles return from their contracted (shortened) state. This keeps the muscles from spasming later and keeps them from feeling tight for days afterwards, which means you can get back to the gym faster.
Increases Range of Motion
This one goes hand-in-hand with flexibility. The more flexible you are, the better you can move. The better you move, the more your body is able to adapt to outside forces without breaking. This is not only practical; it can help prevent injuries. Which brings us to the next point…
Reduces the Risk of Injury
Dynamic, or active stretching, simultaneously ensures that your tendons and ligaments (which do not really stretch) are functionally healthy with no impingements (places where they get stuck), while lengthening and stabilizing the muscles around them. This helps prevent injuries such as hyperextension, strains, and sprains.
Multiple studies indicate that stretching helps increase blood flow to the muscles, delivering nutrients and helping to flush out built-up toxins like lactic acid that result from a strenuous workout.
Boosts Muscular Efficiency
When you stretch following exercise, you return the muscles to their lengthened state after a period of forceful shortening. This allows them to repair themselves while fully lengthened, resulting in longer muscle fibers, which improves muscle function. Flexible, well-functioning muscles require less exertion to move, which means you can move more efficiently through your workout, adding more reps before becoming fatigued.
Improves Muscle Strength
Does this one surprise you? When you can move through an increased range of motion with more efficiency, the strength exercises you do become even more effective, because longer muscles can contract further. Stretching also loosens the fascia surrounding the muscles, so that they have more room to grow.
We tend to tense up our muscles when we’re stressed out. The shoulders can crunch towards the ears, the back can get stiff, and the even the hips can get tight. Don’t even get me started on the eyebrows and jaw! Thankfully, this mind-body connection is a two-way street, so reducing tension in the body can reduce tension in the mind.
Who doesn’t want to stand up straighter? Even if you know to stand up straight, tight shoulders, chest and back can make it it impossible to fully align your body, which can lead to a whole host of other problems stemming from poor posture. Stretching can help prevent those problems by giving you the range of motion and alignment you need to stand up straight.
It Feels Good
Maybe not always in the moment! But please remember that there is a big difference between “hurts so good” and “hurts so bad.” Proper stretching always falls into the first category. Overall, stretching should leave you feeling balanced, relaxed, and at peace.
With all these benefits, there is no reason NOT to stretch. Even just 10 minutes a day added onto the end of your workout routine will produce tons of benefits. Come back next week where I’ll compare the main forms of stretching, and dive into the pros and cons of each!