Stretching. Something basically all athletic trainers, personal trainers, coaches, physicians and fitness enthusiasts say you should do, right? But really…why does it matter? Well after reading through today’s post you’ll have some answers.
Stretching provides many therapeutic benefits from increasing flexibility to improving heart health to reducing stress. Here’s six ways stretching can impact you:
Being flexible is more than just being able to touch your toes. Flexibility decreases stiffness. Seems logical right, well with decreased stiffness also comes a decreased risk of injury to muscles and joints. Stiffness or tightening up of a muscle puts not only extra stress on the tight muscle, but also on the joints at which that muscle acts to cause movement. So, less movement equals more stress on the joint and the cartilage within the joint space. Another important benefit of increased flexibility is that it encourages a faster recovery post exercise. It helps your muscles recycle the lactic acid build up from your workout which is the main cause of muscle soreness. Also, focus on stretching less flexible areas should be your priority, but even “flexible” areas should still be stretched from time to time. This will make sure you don’t stiffen up in previously flexible areas.
Mobility is a fairly popular term these days. All it really is is the body’s ability to move throughout a normal available range of motion. Each joint has a certain amount of available “normal” range of motion. Now each individual may vary slightly, but on the whole everyone will roughly fall within these normal ranges. When you’re stiff and cannot touch your toes, guess what…you’re not meeting the normal range of motion for the hamstrings. This can not only cause the feeling of discomfort in your hamstrings, but may cause you low back pain and a forward rounding of the shoulders as well. In a nutshell, this means bad posture. So, the more mobility and flexibility you have available throughout the body the better posture you will have as well.
There are several cardiovascular benefits to stretching. When you stretch, you not only stretch the muscle, but the blood vessels within the muscle. This helps the vessels to stay more fluid and pliable, which improves the blood and nutrient supply throughout your muscles and body. It also can decrease your cholesterol levels and prevent blockages within these vessels from forming. These benefits go beyond just the particular muscle you are stretching to the main powerhouse of your cardiovascular system, the heart.
By improving the the joints ability to move through its normal available range of motion you will also increase your strength. This works by increasing the mechanical efficiency of the muscle. The muscle is able to spread the work it’s performing throughout the entire muscle instead of focusing it in a smaller segment like what happens when a muscle is tight. This in turn builds your muscles more evenly and provides you with more overall strength. You’ll also achieve a more full and even look to the muscle when strength training.
Stretching is a fantastic way to prevent injury. Improving how your joints and muscles function in relationship to each other is so important for the prevention of injury. For example, improved posture as we touched on before will help prevent injuries, such as chronic low-back pain or neck pain. Another great benefit to improved flexibility is that your body has a better understanding of where it is in space. This is called kinesthetic awareness or balance. It is common as we age to “stiffen up” and the stiffer we get the worse our balance and awareness of where we are in space typically becomes. Think about an older individual in your life, do they have good balance? Well I don’t know about you, but many of my older patients or clients don’t have the best balance. As a result when they fall injuries often occur. Yet, most of these falls are preventable. Increasing your flexibility (particularly of your ankle/calf) is one way to improve balance as you age and thus prevent injury.
The last point I’m going to touch on is about how stretching can reduce your stress. Think about it, a stiff or tight muscle is much more tense than a loose or flexible muscle, right? So, decreasing the amount of tension within your muscles will provide a calming affect throughout your body. Stretching will also help you feel invigorated and is a great way to “wake up” to power through that mid-afternoon slump. Stand up and stretch or yoga flow for a few minutes. You’ll feel more awake once you have and can finish the day strong.
Finally, here’s a few additional stretching tips: 1) spend at least 45 minutes to 1 hour per week stretching (do a few minutes every day); and 2) focus on more dynamic forms of stretching before activity and more traditional stretching post activity to help you prevent stiffness and to maintain your normal range of motions. (Check our our stretching techniques post from last week for more information). As always if you have any questions about stretching don’t hesitate to call or shoot us an e-mail. We’re happy to help!