By: Austin Martinez
Austin Martinez is the Director of Education at StretchLab. Here, he writes about the health benefits of stretching.
We’re well aware of the health benefits that come with following a consistent workout routine. But how much time do you dedicate to pre- and post-stretching? We all know the act of doing so is conducive to a healthier state of living – as is staying hydrated – so it’s important to start incorporating it into your regular regimen.
Stretching is a simple and effective activity that helps to enhance athletic performance, decrease the likelihood of injury, and assist with injury rehabilitation.
The major benefit of a regular stretching program is improved range of motion and freedom of movement. As a result, a reduction in general muscle tension is achieved and our ability to bend, reach and turn is improved.
Regular stretching will also help to increase comfort, improve posture, develop body awareness, improve coordination, promote circulation, increase energy, and improve relaxation and stress relief.
Stretching complements and enhances everything else we do throughout the day.
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It’s important to stretch before exercise as part of a warm up to help prepare for the rigors of your chosen sport or activity. It’s also important to stretch after exercise as part of your cool down, as this will help with recovery. But one of the most beneficial times to stretch is just before going to bed at night. This ensures that the last things your nervous system remembers before going to sleep is the lengthened state of your muscles. It also ensures that your muscles repair in an elongated state. And to see real improvements in your flexibility, each stretch should be held for at least 30 to 60 seconds and repeated two or three times.
Many people think that the harder they stretch, the more flexible they will get, when in fact, pushing too hard will have the opposite effect. When you stretch your muscles to the point of discomfort your body employs a defense mechanism called the stretch reflex, which causes your muscles to contract and tighten up. Stretching works best when the intensity of the stretch is about 7 out of 10.
When improving flexibility is the goal, it’s important to hold the stretch long enough to allow your muscles time to relax and lengthen. To see real improvements in your flexibility, each stretch should be held for at least 30 to 60 seconds and repeated at least two or three times.
Many people hold their breath while stretching, without realizing they’re even doing it. This causes tension in the muscles, which in turn makes it very difficult to stretch. To avoid this, breathe slowly and deeply while doing your stretching exercises. This will help to relax the muscles, promote blood flow and increase the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.
The truth is we’re all different and we all need different stretches. Some of us are tighter in the front of our bodies (chest, shoulders, hips), while others are tighter in the back of their bodies (lower back, hamstrings, calves). Some of us even have imbalances from one side of our body to the other. The best stretches that we can do are the ones that address our personal imbalances and tight spots.