Coaches, personal trainers and sports medicine practitioners all sing the same tune when it comes to stretching. Namely, you need to stretch. Stretching is one of the most important forms of injury prevention, so coaches and doctors aren’t just blowing smoke when it comes to this activity.
The Benefits of Stretching
Stretching does more than help prevent athletic injuries. Here are a couple of benefits to stretching:
- Improve range of motion. This is one of the huge benefits for athletes. The better an athlete’s range of motion and flexibility, the less chance of injury. No, flexibility doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get injured, but it sure does help.
- Reduce muscle tightness. You don’t have to be an athlete to get muscle cramps or tightness, and stretching is an easy way to help alleviate the associated pain and discomfort.
- Improve circulation. Stretching helps improve blood flow to your muscles and joints, and more blood means more oxygen and nutrients get to your muscles. This is a benefit everyone can enjoy.
- Improve posture and coordination. Proper stretching involves controlled movements and holding poses without wobbling. So, stretching has a secondary benefit to improving core strength, posture and coordination.
- Relieve stress. Stretching is very meditative. When done properly, you’re breathing steadily, focusing on your body and relaxing tight muscles. That’s meditation 101.
Tips on Proper Stretching
Stretching sounds pretty simple, but there are a handful of things to keep in mind to get the most out of your flexibility-increasing efforts.
- Never stretch when your muscles are cold. When your muscles are cold, they aren’t as elastic – there isn’t much blood flowing to them, and you can actually overstretch or injure muscles by cold stretching.
- Stretch after a short warm-up. Even though recent research suggests that stretching before a workout or activity can actually slow muscle-reaction time, many coaches and trainers still suggest stretching after a light warm-up so you can achieve your maximum range of motion out of the gate.
- Stretch after a workout. The absolute best time to stretch is after a workout. Your muscles are plenty warm, so this is the time to work on your range of motion and increase the blood flow to your freshly worked out muscles.
- Don’t over-stretch. Stretching isn’t supposed to hurt. Sure, you will feel some tension in your muscles, but if that tension is painful, back off the stretch. If you try to reach too far beyond your range of motion and over-stretch, you will damage your muscles.
- Don’t jerk or bounce. There is such a thing as ballistic stretching, where you essentially hop around to warm up your muscles, but it is best to either hold a static pose (static stretching) or perform fluid movements in dynamic stretching to properly stretch your muscles. Jerky or concussive movements may damage your muscles and joints, especially if you aren’t that flexible.
- Hold each stretch for 30 seconds. Quick stretches don’t do much of anything. Holding static stretches for 30 seconds gives you time sufficient time to relax into the stretch and expand your muscles.
- Relax and breathe. “Breath into the pose” is something yoga instructors say all the time. If you’re having trouble with a stretch, straighten out of it, take a deep breath and move back into the stretch on your exhale. It also helps to concentrate on the muscle that you are stretching and willing it to relax.
Remember, stretching isn’t supposed to be painful. Only hold a pose as deeply as you are able. Runners and cyclists especially are not known for their flexibility, but adding regular stretching into your regimen will work wonders on you recovery.Tweet