Surprising Benefits of Stretching
This gentle form of exercise improves muscle control, mobility, and blood flow. It also keeps your joints flexible and reduces injury risk. In the long run, it can make you a better athlete and enhance your overall fitness.
But what is stretching in the first place? And when it's the best time to do it? Should you stretch before or after exercise? Let's find out!
The Basics of Stretching
Health experts emphasize the benefits of stretching for good reason. This activity prepares your body for training and increases blood flow to the working muscles. At the same time, it improves your flexibility and range of motion, leading to enhanced physical performance.
Contrary to popular belief, stretching isn't just for athletes. It benefits people of all ages and fitness levels.
Beware that stretching isn't the same as warming up. To stay injury-free, you should warm up first, then stretch. For instance, you could walk on the treadmill or jog at a slow pace for five to 10 minutes before doing your stretching routine. This will warm up your muscles and get your heart pumping.
Types of Stretching
Research shows that dynamic stretching leads to greater power and agility compared to static stretching. Furthermore, it improves reaction time and has a positive impact on vertical performance. To reap its benefits, stretch for five to 10 minutes before working out.
For instance, you could stretch your chest, back, shoulders, hamstrings, and other muscle groups. Think of it as a safe, effective way to cool down.
Beware that static and passive stretching are not one and the same. Passive stretching is done in a relaxed state where you assume a position and hold it with the help of a partner or object. Its role is to relieve muscle spasms, soreness, and fatigue after exercise.
Another option is ballistic stretching. This dynamic exercise forces your muscles and joints to go beyond their normal range of motion.
It consists of uncontrolled, erratic movements, which may lead to injury. That’s why ballistic stretching is only recommended to athletes and should be done under the supervision of a professional.
No matter how you stretch, you shouldn't feel pain. If you do, it means you're going too far.
Do You Need to Stretch at All?
The benefits of stretching go beyond greater flexibility. This practice can improve your posture, prevent and relieve back pain, and speed up recovery from exercise. For example, physiotherapists often recommend back stretches to those suffering from sciatica or herniated discs. Stretching restores their range of motion and promotes healing.
Even a few static stretches after training can reduce next-day muscle soreness. Pre-workout stretching can help you get the most out of gym time and perform better.
If you have bad posture, this form of exercise can stretch and strengthen the muscles around your spine. As a result, your posture will gradually improve and your back will get stronger.
How to Stretch Properly
Stretching requires no equipment and suits all fitness levels (except for ballistic and isometric stretching). For a more challenging workout, you can use an exercise ball or resistance bands. These accessories are ideal for dynamic stretching. Over time, you'll move around more easily and with less pain, have greater energy, and get better results from your workout.