Be Flexible With Stretching: Understanding Stretching Exercises, Flexibility Exercises, And A Good Stretching Routine
Perhaps one of the most overlooked components of a proper exercise program is that of flexibility exercises, otherwise known as stretching. When someone says ‘stretching’, what do you think about? A painful exercise that you need to do at the end of your workout – which you just don’t have time for? Or maybe you think about exercises that you don’t really believe offer any full value or benefit. Whatever the case, that’s about to change as I’m going to explain to you why stretching is so critical to success. Like it not, stretching needs to be a part of your regular workout program. Even if you aren’t engaging in a regular workout routine, stretching should still be a part of your life. Everyone – young and old – needs to stretch. To better understand the process that lack of stretching will have on your muscles, be sure to check out the video below, which explains this into great detail. Before we dive in and talk more about the types of stretching exercises you can do, let’s talk about the benefits. Why do it in the first place?
Benefits Of StretchingWhen you think about the benefits of stretching, the first thing that likely comes to mind is increased flexibility or range of motion. The more often you stretch, the larger the range of motion you can move through. This is quite self-explanatory. But, stretching offers a number of other key benefits as well. Here’s how it can help.
Increased strength developmentSo you think that stretching can’t help boost your strength development. Think again. While it seems clear that stretching isn’t a strength building exercise (after all, you aren’t using any weight!), it helps you in an indirect way. When you maintain a greater range of motion in the exercises that you perform, this will in turn help you develop more strength overall. Think of it this way. To really develop maximum strength when squatting, it’s essential that you squat all the way down as low to the ground as possible. Fail to do so and you won’t recruit the glute muscles fully. But, if you are limited in your stretching and simply can’t go the full way down in the exercise, you have no choice but to only go halfway. The result? You don’t see the strength gains you should be. Those who are very inflexible will be strictly limited by this inflexibility. Only stretching can help get them past this.
Improved postureStretching is also going to help improve your posture. Often those who sit hunched over at desks on a day to day basis find they start experiencing muscle shortening in certain areas of their back. Over time, this can lead to a permanently shifted posture. By stretching, you’ll help lengthen these muscles, which will help you stay standing upright. Having improved posture will not only help you feel better and reduce neck and back soreness, but it’ll make you come across as more confident and self-assured as well.
Less risk of muscular imbalancesMuscle imbalances occur when one side of your body is much stronger than the other. Most people think this results from performing too much activity to one side, thus strengthening those muscles. And while that’s one way it can develop, it’s not the only way. You can also experience muscular imbalances thanks to being inflexible in certain muscles of the body. For instance, if your shoulder on your left side is tight and inflexible, you may start using other muscles to help execute shoulder targeted exercises. Over time, this causes the shoulder muscles to become weaker and weaker on that one side, while the ones on the opposing side become stronger. Let this go on long enough and you will see a clear strength imbalance develop.
Lower risk of injuriesStretching will also go a long way towards helping you reduce your risk of injuries. This is thanks to the fact you’ll get past those strength imbalances as just noted, but also because it’ll help ensure the ligaments and tendons connecting the joints are functioning as they should. If the entire joint tenses up due to lack of flexibility, any time stress is placed on this joint, there is a higher chance that tendons or ligaments become strained.
Improved energyRegular flexibly training can also help increase your energy. How will it do this? It’ll help bring more oxygen into your system. This comes from both the increase in posture that you’ll maintain thanks to not being so stiff (and thus better air flow into the lunges), as well as simply due to the increase circulation of blood throughout the muscles as you stretch. As this blood brings oxygen into the tissues, this in turn will help you sustain higher energy levels.
Increased mobilityThink about all the older individuals you’ve seen over the last few weeks. How well were they moving? Many, as you will have likely noticed, have serious mobility issues. Some may not even be able to stand up straight and when they do finally get upright, they walk very slowly. Mobility is a huge thing as you grow older and if you aren’t flexible, it’s only going to limit you. The unfortunate part of this is that you’ll lose flexibility rapidly with age if you don’t train for it, so it only gets worse as time goes on. And once you’ve lost flexibility, it’s very hard to get back. It’s very much a ‘use it or lose it principle’.
Decreased stress levelsStretching is also great for lowering your stress levels. When you’re stretching, you’ll also be focusing on deep breathing, which can help you turn your focus inward to your body, helping ease any stress or tension you are experiencing. Many people hold their stress and tension in their neck region, so a good stretching routine can help loosen up these tight muscle areas. The more relaxed you feel in a physical sense, often the more relaxed you’ll be from a psychological sense as well.
Reduced risk of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)Finally, let’s not forget the fact that with regular routine stretching, you’ll also experience a lower risk of delayed onset muscle soreness. You know the feeling – you wake up after a hard workout session and can hardly get out of bed. If you are regularly experiencing this, it could be due to the lack of stretching you’re doing in your workout routine. Stretching will help to remove lactic acid build-up after a hard training session, which in turn would contribute to that sore and tight feeling. As you can see, stretching comes with many great benefits. It’s too important to simply overlook and miss out on.
The Types Of StretchingWhen it comes to stretching, it’s not as simple as hitting the stretching mats and going at it. There are certain types of stretching that you should know – some better for certain situations than others. Let’s go over the main types so you can get a feel for what will work best for you. Static Stretching When most people think of ‘stretching exercises’, they tend to think about static stretching. This form of stretching entails you holding a position for 15-30 seconds (or longer), without moving. The benefits?
- Increased range of motion
- Reduced stress and tension
- Serves as an excellent cool-down after a workout session.
- Increased circulation and blood flow to the muscles
- Enhanced range of motion
- Decreased injury risk for exercise performed after the stretching
- Further range of motion than what you’d normally get from regular stretching
- Excellent stress relief
- Relaxation benefits
- Offers a faster way to improve flexibility
- May pose some muscle strengthening benefits as well
Making The Most Of Your Stretching RoutineIn order to reap maximum benefits from your stretching routine, there are some important things to know. How you stretch can often be just as critical as if you stretch, so let’s show you how to get it right.
- Focus On Breathing
- Stretch At The Proper Time
- Stretch Daily
- Perform Each Stretching Exercise Twice
- Hold Your Stretches
- Know Your Limits
Frequently Asked Questions About Stretching
- Can I stretch an injured area?
- Should I stretch when I’m sore?
- How long will it take for me to develop more flexibility?
- Will stretching reduce strength levels? Is it okay to stretch between sets?
- Do I need to stretch all my muscle groups?