Surprising Benefits of Stretching
Feeling sore after a tough workout? Struggling with back or neck pain? Perhaps you want to boost your flexibility and range of motion? Stretching is the answer.
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
Studies have found that it helps those struggling with depression, diabetes, and breast cancer. This form of exercises boosts endorphin production in the brain, improving your mood and mental well-being. Endorphins are also referred to as the happiness hormones or "feel-good" chemicals. Stretching your body for just a few minutes can make you happier and more confident.
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
Most fitness pros recommend stretching after exercise when your muscles are warm and have a greater range of motion. However, there are dozens of ways to stretch, and each has its perks. Some are ideal before exercise, while others work best post-workout.
Let's take dynamic stretching. This form of exercise is perfect for warming up and works best before training. Due to its intense nature, it improves blood flow and boosts your range of motion. It involves controlled swinging of the arms and legs, such as arm swings, sideways leg swings, leg crossovers, and twisting reverse lunges.
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.
Static stretching is ideal after training. It involves holding a stretch in a challenging but comfortable position for 10 to 30 seconds or more. With regular practice, it boosts muscle and joint flexibility as well as functional fitness.
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.
Other stretching techniques are simply variations of active, passive, dynamic, and static stretching. Choosing one over another comes down to your needs and goals.
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?
Like any other exercise, stretching isn't mandatory, but it can make all the difference. Health professionals recommend stretching each of the major muscle groups at least twice a week. This will keep your joints flexible as you age. Plus, it can dramatically lower your risk of injury.
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.
Since stretching improves circulation, it leads to greater energy and stamina. Over time, it may improve muscular coordination and range of movement in the joints. Additionally, it's a good way to relieve muscle tension and reduce recovery time.
How to Stretch Properly
As a rule of thumb, focus on the muscles that are being worked. For instance, if you're going to train your legs, stretch your quads, hamstrings, and calves. Whole body stretches are beneficial as well, especially post-workout. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds; just make sure you maintain good form. Remember to breathe and relax.
Let’s say you want to stretch your back. Try the knees to chest stretch. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place your hands on your hamstrings and pull both legs toward your chest until you feel a gentle stretch. Use a slow, controlled motion. Hold the position for about 30 seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat.
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.
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