There are so many integrative benefits of stretching that go far beyond warming up and cooling down after a workout. Not only is stretching essential for maintaining your flexibility, but it can also improve your posture, reduce aches and pains, help you manage stress, and so much more. Here’s a look at the benefits of stretching in more detail, plus some advice to help you get started.
- Improve Your Flexibility
Stretching regularly is essential for maintaining flexibility. Good flexibility is handy in the gym, but it also helps you perform everyday tasks more easily and helps you remain mobile as you age.
- Better Posture
Poor posture is often caused by weakness or imbalances in certain muscle groups. According to experts, Andre Noel Potvin, and the Rahav Wellness Integrative Medicine clinic, good posture is crucial for preventing musculoskeletal pain and promoting spinal alignment. Stretching is an excellent way to correct imbalances and strengthen the muscles in your core, which leads to better posture.
- Greater Range of Motion
The ability to move a joint through its entire range of motion is important for maintaining joint health and preventing chronic aches and pains. Regular stretching not only maintains your range of motion but also improves it over time.
- Improves Physical Performance
Stretching immediately before a workout or some other physical activity prepares your muscles and improves your physical performance during the event.
- Improved Blood Flow to the Muscles
Stretching increases blood circulation, not just to your muscles, but also throughout your entire body. Improved blood flow to your muscles shortens your recovery time between workouts and may even reduce or prevent soreness after physical activity.
- Prevent and Heal Back Issues
When the muscles in your back are tight, you’ll not only have a reduced range of motion, but you will also be more prone to back injuries. Stretching can help prevent back injuries by loosening and strengthening key muscle groups. Stretching with a foam roller can also help heal existing back pain and other injuries.
- Reduce Stress
Our muscles often tense up in response to emotional and physical stress. Releasing that tension with stretching can reduce stress and help you relax. When stretching to reduce stress, focus on the areas where you hold tension, particularly your back, neck, and shoulders.
- Improve Mindfulness
Stretching can be very meditative. It’s a great way to calm your mind, especially if you do it regularly. When you stretch, do it mindfully and focus on clearing your mind.
- May Reduce Headaches
Headaches caused by tension and stress are quite common and they can interfere with your quality of life. Stretching helps to reduce the tension and stress that causes these headaches and may reduce their occurrence, especially when combined with proper rest and hydration.
- Fewer Injuries, Trips, and Falls
No matter what age you are, stretching helps to improve your balance, making you less likely to trip or fall. That’s because stretching improves fine muscle coordination and it’s especially beneficial as you age. It also prevents injuries during your workouts and even everyday life because you’re less likely to misstep and twist an ankle or knee.
How to Start a Stretching Routine
If you’re ready to get started with stretching, the first thing you need to know is that there are several different stretching techniques. The two most common are:
- Static stretching: With this stretching technique, you hold the stretch in a comfortable position for around 10 to 30 seconds. Static stretching is great at the end of a workout to reduce soreness and muscle tension. It’s also a great way to manage stress, calm the mind, and reduce muscle tension even on days when you’re not working out.
- Dynamic stretching: This stretching technique involves active movements that stretch the muscles, but the stretch isn’t held for any length of time. This type of stretching is often used to warm up the muscles before a workout.
If you’re new to stretching, start out slow and give your body a chance to get used to the new movement. To prevent injury, you should spend some time with your personal trainer to ensure that you’re using the proper technique and form.
Aim for around 10 minutes of dynamic stretching before your workout and 10 minutes of static stretching after. On days when you’re not working out, do at least 10 minutes of static stretches to prevent muscle tightness and increase flexibility.
During your stretching routine, focus on areas like the quads, hips, hamstrings, and calves in the lower body. For the upper body, focus on the shoulders, neck, and back. These are the areas that tend to hold tension and be more prone to injury.
Stretching Safety Tips Everyone Should Follow
Whether you’re new to stretching or you’ve been doing it for a while, the following safety tips are crucial for preventing injury.
- Don’t stretch past your comfort level: Stretching shouldn’t hurt! It’s normal to feel some tension when you stretch, but if you’re experiencing pain, you are stretching too far. Back off the stretch and increase it gradually over time as your flexibility improves.
- Never bounce: Ballistic stretching, or bouncing in the stretch, used to be quite popular. We now know that this type of stretching greatly increases the risk of injury and actually reduces the effectiveness of the stretch.
- Don’t stretch when your muscles are cold: Cold muscles are tense and more prone to injury. They’re also harder to stretch. You will get a lot more out of your stretching routine if you do five or ten minutes of light cardio first, such as walking or jogging.
- Don’t overdo the stretching: Just like any other type of exercise, you can overdo stretching. Avoid stretching the same muscle groups more than once or twice a day. Overstretching can cause muscle damage and increase your risk of injury.
Guidelines for Safe Stretching with Physical Limitations
Here are some guidelines to follow for safe stretching:
- If you have a physical limitation that prevents you from using proper form during a stretch, talk with your personal trainer about altering the exercise so you can perform it safely until your mobility and flexibility improve. Don’t force it!
- If you have a chronic injury, spend some time with a physical therapist or physical training developing a program to strengthen the area without causing further injury.
- If you have an acute injury, don’t do any stretches until your doctor gives the ok.
Whether you’re new to working out or you’ve been doing it your whole life, stretching is a great way to improve your overall fitness and mental wellbeing. It offers a variety of integrative health benefits, including improved posture and range of motion, plus reduced stress and a calmer mind. Just about anyone can benefit from incorporating stretching into their daily routine, no matter what their overall goals and fitness level are.
Nicole is an experienced content writer with a passion for all aspects of wellness. She worked a side gig at a yoga studio for years before becoming a mom, and absolutely fell in love with holistic and alternative therapies during her first pregnancy. She’s been proclaimed the “health nut” amongst family and friends, and when she’s not writing, Nicole can be found studying to become a health coach and reading up on all aspects of healthy living.