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Why Is Stretching So Important?

Yiwen Lu, MS, RD, CPT
November 3, 2023
December 14, 2023

Stretching is a physical activity that involves intentionally lengthening the muscles in the body to improve flexibility and range of motion. Stretching is an excellent supplementary exercise that can enhance your physical performance. We all know that cardio and strength training often steal the spotlight, but let's not forget that stretching is also an essential component of fitness! Keep reading to explore the benefits of stretching and tips on how to stretch properly.

4 Benefits of Stretching

Incorporating stretching into your daily routine can provide 4 main great health benefits:

  • Improves flexibility and reduces chances of injury: As we age, our muscles become shorter, tighter, and less flexible, making us more prone to injuries. Stretching can improve flexibility and range of motion - this means less chances for injury!
  • Relieves muscle tension and soreness: Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles. Stretching promotes the elimination of waste byproducts from muscle tissue, which helps relieve muscle tension and soreness.
  • Improves posture: Poor posture is often caused by muscle imbalances resulting from overuse or underuse of certain muscle groups. Stretching can improve posture by lengthening tight muscles and reducing muscle imbalances. For example, if you sit at a desk for extended periods of time, it can cause muscle tightness and shortening of the hip flexor muscles. This leads to the opposing muscles in the hip, such as the glutes and hamstrings, to become weakened. As a result, this leads to poor posture, and poor posture can lead to an increased risk of injury.
  • Reduces stress: Want to de-stress? Stretching can help! By promoting relaxation, stretching can help to reduce stress levels. Try taking deep breaths and closing your eyes while stretching for an even greater sense of relief.

When to Stretch?

Make stretching part of your routine and do it before, during, and after exercise to warm up and cool down the muscles.

This helps prevent muscle injuries. However, you can also stretch for relaxation purposes at any time and in any place!

If you have a sedentary job, make it a habit to stretch periodically. This helps prevent poor postures and reduces the risk of injury.

Take a few minutes to stretch throughout the day!

6 Tips for Safe and Effective Stretching

  1. Stretch regularly: Just like brushing your teeth, make stretching a part of your daily routine! If you do not keep up with it, the benefits of stretch will diminish - consistency is key! When you exercise, try to stretch before and after your workout. If you do not exercise regularly, try to stretch at least 2 to 3 times per week.
  2. Stretch all over: Give your muscles equal attention! While it might be tempting to only stretch the areas that feel tight or sore, it's important to do a full body stretch to prevent and improve muscle imbalances.
  3. Relax and breathe: As you begin to stretch, focus on your breath and take long, slow inhales for 3 to 5 seconds, holding briefly at the top before exhaling for another 3 to 5 seconds. As you exhale, deepen the stretch gradually and gently. 
  4. Avoid over stretching: Stretch only to the point where you feel a gentle pull, but never to the point of pain. Be patient and kind to yourself as flexibility takes time to develop.
  5. Avoid bouncing: If you bounce when you stretch, it might cause micro-tears in the muscles and lead to injury. To prevent injury and promote muscle relaxation, it is important to enter and exit each stretching position slowly and with intention. When performing static stretches, hold each position for 15 to 30 seconds.
  6. Use props: Props can help you deepen your stretches and develop flexibility over time. For example, if you're not able to reach the ground during a forward fold, you can place a block under your hand to bring the ground closer to you. Similarly, a strap can be used to gently pull your foot towards your body during a hamstring stretch.

Takeaways

Now that you understand the many benefits of stretching, make it a consistent part of your routine! Remember to listen to your body and be patient with yourself as you work to develop your flexibility over time. With time and practice, you can enjoy the many benefits of stretching and improve your fitness level and overall health.

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