Do you stretch religiously after every workout? Every run? Every group fitness class?
Most of us don't... and with today's "go go go" mentality, it's so easy to forget stretching and active flexibility in our workout routines. Today, we're talking about why you should incorporate stretching and active flexibility exercises into your routine. Often overlooked (likely because results are not as "visible" as cardio or weight lifting), but still extremely important. Stretching can help you improve your posture, decrease any aches and pains you might be struggling with, increase your confidence, and even lead to a happier outlook on life! Don't believe us? Keep reading for 10 reasons to have a nice, long stretch break!
- Decrease muscle stiffness and soreness - this one is obvious. Stretching can help improve not only your range of motion and flexibility, but it can also help your muscles recover after a tough workout. Incorporating stretching exercises into your routine keeps your muscles loose, and decreases the shortening and tightening effect that could later lead to muscle pain.
- Improves your posture - stretching muscles in your back, shoulders, and even your chest helps keep your back aligned, which, in turn, can improve your overall posture.
- Potential reduction of injury - flexible muscles are less likely to injure if for some reason, you are forced to make a very sudden move. As mentioned above, stretching can help improve your range of motion, and in particular joints, this can result in a decrease of resistance on your body's muscles during active activity.
- Promote blood circulation - when you stretch your muscles, the body increases blood supply to those muscles and joints, allowing for greater nutrient transportaion. Bonus points: this also helps improve the circulation of blood throughout your entire body!
- Better balance - in addition to the strain placed on muscles during a workout, the daily use of these muscles can also cause them to tighten up, especially if regularly carry a purse or backpack. Typically, the heavier the bag, the more your body will tighten up. For backpacks, this obviously affects your back, while for purses, it can affect one side more than the other, leaving you to feel unbalanced and achey. Stretching can help alleviate this muscle tightness and allow your body to feel back in balance.
- Improves functional performance - research shows that flexible joints and muscles require less energy to move through a wider range of motion. Since regular stretching can help your body become more flexible, you may see an improvement in mechanical efficiency and overall performance (due to more energy-efficient movement).
- Increase the intensity of your workout - even regular stretching before your workout can prove to be beneficial. Keep in mind that dynamic stretching is often recommended before a workout, as it helps increase body temperature and joint flexibility... so a better range of motion might mean you can lunge or squat lower, jump higher, or run farther - allowing you to get more out of your sweat session. On the contrary, static stretches are typically better at the end of your workout for more of a cool-down effect.
- Gives you a blast of energy - feeling a bit drowsy or tired going into your workout? Stretching can actually help you kick-start your body, waking you up and getting you ready for that sweat session!
- Improves your mental health - obviously, hectic days can cause mental/emotional stress... but stretching (as does your workout) allows you to take a break from a long or stressful day. You can even combine your stretch session with deep breathing exercises, which can help decrease your heart rate and stabilise your blood pressure. Overall, it should leave you in a more relaxed state.
- Better sleep - having a regular stretching routine may help you get better sleep at night. Studies show that athletes who stretch regularly fall asleep faster than those who don't. And, if you're really feeling up to it, try some deep breathing exercises and long yoga stretches (think child's pose and supine twists) before bed - it will calm your body and mind, and encourage you to get a good night's sleep.
You can learn even more about the importance of stretching here.