Everyone stretches: when you get out of bed, before you play basketball, after a long day on your feet, or before a session at the gym. But do you know the specific reasons why it’s so important? People may say so you don’t cramp, but that’s not the only, or most important, reason.
Even if you don’t have a strict workout regimen, and you stick to a treadmill desk during your workday or something, you need to stretch to protect your body and your comfort.
In this blog, we’re going to break down why stretching is so important, the effects on your body if you don’t stretch before a workout, and some of the potential long-term outcomes on your body without the proper precautions and care.
What Does Stretching Actually Do?
Aside from keeping your muscles strong, healthy, flexible, and limber, stretching comes with a slew of health benefits. Stretching can help prevent strains, muscle tears, permanent ligament damage, and more.
It can help improve your blood flow. It can allow you to be physically active as you continue to age. So not only will you still be able to exercise and do physical activities that you enjoy, your everyday life will become easier as you handle daily tasks that require your muscles. You’ll be flexible later in life as well.
But it’s important to note that you have to maintain a habit of stretching to improve your flexibility and muscle health; one stretching session won’t magically improve your body if you don’t keep it up.
When Should I Stretch?
Regular stretching is optimal throughout the week, especially if you work out very often. According to WebMD, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching each of the major muscle groups at least twice a week for 60 seconds per workout. It promotes good joint, muscle, and ligament health and could keep them flexible as you age.
But there are two main types of stretching:
- Static stretching – Stretching a muscle to its fullest extent possible and holding it for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Dynamic stretching – Stretching that moves an entire muscle group “fluidly” through an entire range of motion.
Static stretching, perhaps surprisingly, isn’t proven to help prior to a workout. In fact, it can weaken your performance, as it tires out your muscles prior to exercising them fully. Dynamic stretching, like going on a brisk walk before a run, is more effective at warming up the body than static stretching. Dynamic stretching simulates a good warmup for your upcoming workout, but it’s less intense.
One of the best times to stretch is after your workout. Static stretching comes in handy here, as it cools you down after an intense workout and allows your muscles and joints to wind down. You particularly want to stretch before getting in a long car ride home; this can stiffen you up and make your legs feel like jelly when you get out of the car.
Are There Right and Wrongs to Stretch?
In short, yes. You need to make sure you’re doing a balanced stretching session and using static versus dynamic stretches accordingly. The Mayo Clinic broke down several stretching essentials to assure you’re going about your stretching the right way. We outline them below:
- Stretching doesn’t equal a warm-up – It’s a good idea to warm up before you stretch with a walk or simple physical activity that isn’t too strenuous. Be wary of intense stretching before intense physical activity.
- Maintain balanced stretching methods – Symmetry is king. You don’t want one side of your body loose and another stretched out. If you are lopsided, you could increase your risk of injury.
- Focus on major muscle groups – Rather than focus on specific muscles, target entire groups of muscles. This will help your body stretch out in a balanced way using dynamic stretching.
- Do not bounce while stretching – Stretch slowly in fluid movements. Don’t bounce or tug at your muscles as it can cause strains or tears.
- Hold your stretches – Take time to hold stretches for brief periods of time: generally 30 seconds for regular areas. Hold longer for areas that have had previous injuries or are being worked back into your workouts.
- Don’t stretch until it hurts – Stretching isn’t supposed to hurt. If you’re stretching to the point of pain, you’re not doing your muscles any good. Maintain tension without causing yourself pain.
- Specify your stretches – Depending on the sport or activity you are doing, specify you’re stretching accordingly. For example, there are different stretches for yoga than there are for basketball.
- Stretch on a regular basis – Maintain a healthy stretching routine to consistently improve flexibility and performance. It can help keep your muscles limber and loose.
- Add movement to stretches – Certain movements can help you be more flexible in your stretches. Common examples include yoga and tai chi, or dynamic stretches.
It’s important to change your methods if you have a chronic injury or condition that limits your movements or certain muscle groups. Chiropractors in Denver and beyond can help improve your range of motion, helping you get closer to the flexibility and muscle health you want. Or in other words, stretching could help prevent injuries which could save you visits to them in the first place.
Conclusion – Why Stretching Is Essential When Working Out
Stretching is an essential function for those who are often physically active, but it’s also just good for everyone in general as well. It can help expand your flexibility, muscle and joint health, range of motion, and physical capabilities as you age. It can also help to prevent injuries that occur during physical activity.
- Don’t do static stretches before workouts; save them for afterward.
- Do perform dynamic stretches, like a brisk walk or jog, to loosen up muscles prior to a workout.
- Follow the Mayo Clinic’s guide to best stretching practices.