It’s the end of your workout, and you’re beat. You’ve sweated, you’re conquered, and now all you want is to refuel and hit the showers. No wonder it’s so easy to forget to stretch. Besides, you know that HIIT can blast calories and a weight training session can build muscles, but what does stretching actually do for you?
Quite a lot, actually. Among other things stretching can help with your training as well as aid with recovery.
Here’s why else you should include stretching as part of your workout routine.
Why It’s Important
Most of us know that stretching improves our flexibility but why do we need to be flexible anyway?
According to Harvard Medical School, “a well-stretched muscle more easily achieves its full range of motion.” Meaning when your muscles are lengthened and stretched, you can improve upon not only your athletic performance — including everything from tennis to weightlifting — but it can also help you with functional day-to-day activities, such as bending down, pulling, and reaching.
The more flexible you are, the less risk you have of sustaining injury, pain, and even balance problems. Daily use of our muscles, from everything to walking to sitting to exercising, tightens, and even shortens, our muscles. Stretching helps to bring back our muscles to balance.
The benefits of stretching outreaches (no pun intended) the physical. A 2016 study found that stretching just 10 minutes a day might help ease menopause and depression symptoms in middle-aged women, which coincides with multiple studies that found yoga to be helpful for both anxiety and depression.
When You Should Stretch
There’s some debate about when is best to stretch — before or after a workout. However, it all depends on the type of stretching you’re doing.
Static stretching is the most commonly known type of stretching, which involves stretching a muscle to the point of mild discomfort and holding that position, typically for 30 seconds.
Dynamic stretching involves performing gentle repetitive movements, such as leg swings, gentle squats, and bridges, where one gradually increases the range of motion of the movement, but always remains within the normal range of motion.
Research suggests that static stretching before exercise makes your muscles weaker and slower, which is why it’s recommended to use it as part of your cool-down.
This is why dynamic stretching is thought to be more effective for your warmup as it wakes up your central nervous system, increases your core temperature, and gets your blood pumping.
Where to Stretch
With a whole body to stretch, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. When in doubt, focus on the muscles that were primarily used in your workout. If you’re a runner, be sure to stretch your calves, quads, hip flexors, and glutes. Just finished a heavy-duty weight lifting session? Stretch out your chest, back, biceps, and triceps.
Since we are a culture that sits a lot, whether in the car or at the office, it’s also important to focus on the muscles that have a tendency to tighten and shorten throughout the day, like our hips, glutes, backs, and shoulders.
Try these simple exercises to help lengthen and loosen your muscles every day before bedtime.
Kneeling Hip Flexor — In a low lunge, drive your hip forward and your knee into the ground. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs.
Thread the Needle (glutes) — Lie on your back with your knees bent, place one foot over the opposite knee. Grab behind the leg that is on the ground with your hands and pull it toward you until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs.
Standing Back Arch — Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put the palms of your hands on your lower back. Slowly bend your upperback backwards, keeping your knees straight, supporting your back with your hands. Go to your maximum. Hold for 15 seconds. Return slowly to your starting position.
Cross Body Stretch (shoulders) — Cross a straight arm across your chest, and use opposite hand to gently pull right upper arm closer to your body. Hold for 15 seconds, relax, and repeat on the other side.
Now you’re on a way to a more flexible body!
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