Most people are aware of the health benefits of physical activity. This is why they incorporate a workout routine into their daily schedules.
The best routines include cardio, strength training, and stretching to help reduce pent-up stress, increase energy levels and for greater stamina.
Despite the importance of stretching, many people skip it completely and jump straight into cardio and strength training, thinking it will keep them strong and healthy for longer. Some even forget to stretch because they want to get their workout done, the last thing on their minds is stretching.
However, stretching before and after a workout is crucial to your overall health. Not only will it help to alleviate sore muscles, tt will also make you less likely to get hurt and give you a wider range of motion when it comes to overall mobility.
Let’s consider why you should be stretching, especially after your workout.
The Benefits of Stretching
Stretching is often overlooked as a type of exercise. To many, it is less exciting than other forms of exercise that can increase blood flow and core body temperature. But stretching is important if you want to stay mobile as you get older and reduce your risk of injury and joint pain.
This is important to remember because even though your current workout may benefit your cardiovascular health and strength, the lack of stretching will affect movements in your everyday life.
There are numerous benefits to be had by stretching, include the following:
- It can improve your full range of motion, essentially making you more flexible.
- Decreases risk of injuries such as ligament sprains
- Enhanced stamina and ability to perform other physical activities
- Decreases joint pain by improving blood flow and flexibility
- It helps to lower blood pressure
- Regular stretching has been shown to provide stress relief
- Stretching benefits the immune system
- It helps to reduce chronic muscle pain or other chronic discomforts like arthritis
Therefore, by incorporating stretches on a regular basis to your exercise routine can be hugely beneficial to both mind and body
Dynamic vs. Static Stretching
There are two types of stretching that can be undertaken; dynamic stretching and static stretching.
What is Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic Stretching is sometimes referred to as active stretching. It uses active movements that help each muscle group move through its full range of motion. Typically, you would briefly stretch out the muscle and repeat a set number of repetitions. Dynamic stretching is a great way to improve flexibility before a workout because it warms up tight muscles and prepares the body for a more intense workout.
What is Static Stretching
Static stretching is stretching a muscle to its maximum capacity and holding that stretch for a set period of time, usually between 10 and 60 seconds.
Static stretches are a great way to cool down after your workout, and we will discuss why next.
The key difference between a dynamic stretch and a static stretch is the time spent holding the stretch compared to the time spent moving in and out of the stretch. Multiple studies have indicated that dynamic stretching offers more benefits to increasing overall power when compared to static.
This means if you undertake stretching prior to a workout involving explosive movements, such as plyometrics, dynamic stretches would offer more carry over benefits.
Interestingly, when it comes to flexibility and improvements to a person’s range of motion, little difference was found when compared to dynamic stretches and static stretches.
That’s not to say that static stretching doesn’t have its place.
Slow and controlled stretches with a focus on deep breathing and a moderate discomfort level acts as a mindfulness exercise. This is ideal if you want to slow your heart rate whilst decreasing blood pressure and stress levels.
Importance of Stretching After Workout
Stretching before a workout prepares the body for more intense exercise, whereas stretching after a workout aids in your body’s cooling down process and helps to limit any tightness and soreness to muscles (delayed onset muscle soreness otherwise known as DOM’s).
Stretching after a workout has three significant advantages for your overall health.
- It allows the body to cool down properly and your heart rate to return to normal. During an intense workout, your heart rate increases, which gets your blood flowing and allows it to deliver oxygen to your muscles and organs. Stretching after exercise helps your heart rate get back to normal so you can get on with the rest of your day.
- Stretching after exercise will increase blood flow to the muscles shuttling vital nutrients to the area that has been trained and help to heal the micro inflammation and ‘damage’ caused by lifting weights.
- Stretching will help your muscles retain their flexibility and improve blood flow to your joints. This is important because as you get older, you need flexible joints to avoid getting injured.
Next time you think about skipping your post-workout stretching, remember that you may be doing more harm than good.
The Best Stretches
Now that you know why stretching is good for you, it’s time to devise your own stretching routine. If you are unsure as to how to perform stretching exercises it would be advisable to contact a qualified physical therapist.
Every person is different and faces different difficulties when it comes to exercising. Please consider this before undertaking any specific stretches as there may be areas of your body that need special attention. There are many different types of stretching before and after exercising, but these are the most common.
Most people are familiar with pre-workout leg stretches like high knees, butt kicks, light jogging, or brisk walking. However, post-workout leg stretches differ depending on which muscle groups you intend to stretch. These could include quad, inner thigh, calf, and hamstring stretches. Moving slowly and deliberately is the best way to avoid damaging the tissues.
Back and Shoulder Stretches
Back and shoulder stretches are important, especially if you need to fix an imbalance in your posture in a particular area. Poor posture and lower back pain are unfortunate consequences of our mostly sedentary lifestyles, such as sitting at a desk for most of the day. Thus, stretching can help in correcting our posture and alleviating back pain.
Hand stretches are essential for avoiding injury and muscle soreness while exercising. This is important because being able to move our hands freely is vital to our daily activities. Simply reaching for an object on the top shelf should not cause a strain on our muscles.
Neck pain is quite common and is typically caused by holding tension in the neck muscles while working out. Even stress has a contributing factor to neck pain. So, it’s essential to stretch the muscles in the neck to stop this pain and make sure the neck can move freely.
Stretches for Joints
Several stretches help your knees, ankles, wrists, and hips. These stretches help with joint pain, aerobic conditioning, and reduce the risk of muscle strains.
Stretching regularly is a good idea if you want to maintain flexibility, mobility, and strength as you age. It is never too early to start, as stretching is crucial to muscle recovery and be done by virtually anyone, anywhere.