Everyone knows that workouts consist of warmups, the actual exercise, and stretching, but why exactly do we stretch? What are the benefits? It certainly is time-consuming and we usually just want to get home after an exhausting workout. But stretching has more benefits than you might think!
Improve flexibility. We'll start with the basics. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that stretching can make you more flexible. But regularly stretching those muscles is important, especially as you age. Over time, your muscles shorten and you lose your flexibility, which is why it's important to stretch them at least two or three times a week. (via Mayo Clinic)
Improve joint range of motion. This one goes hand in hand with improved flexibility. Improving the range of motion in your joints can lead to better athletic performance and a decreased risk of injury. It can also lead to better balance, which makes you less susceptible to falls and injury. When stretching, you'll want to aim for symmetry; for example, make sure you can stretch both hamstrings equally. You don't necessarily need to stretch until it hurts, either. Find the spot where you feel tension (not pain) and hold that stretch for 30 seconds. Hold for 60 seconds in problem areas. (via Mayo Clinic)
Increase blood flow to muscles. An increase of blood flow means better circulation. Not only is good circulation essential for overall good health, but it also reduces muscle soreness after a workout. And the less sore you are, the easier it is to work out the next day! (via Mayo Clinic)
Reduce stress. Stress is a large part of most people's lives, and we're constantly looking for new ways to reduce or relieve stress. However, simply stretch the stress away and come out of your workout with a clear mindset. Because stretching is technically exercising, your body experiences the endorphin-boosting effects that are famous for combating stress. Try moksha yoga for a calming and strengthening workout. (via Fitday)
Improve posture. Most office jobs consist of sitting at a computer all day, so for most of us, that means sitting hunched over with terrible posture as well. Stretching your back, neck and shoulders can help improve your posture, as long as you're consciously making an effort to improve it throughout the day while sitting at your desk as well. Check out five stretches to improve your posture from Fitday here.
Create a ritual. Stretching could become a pre or post-workout ritual that you come to enjoy and look forward to. However, you don't want to stretch cold muscles immediately before a workout. Make sure to jog or walk for at least ten minutes before stretching. For an even better option, wait to stretch until after your workout. It works as a great, relaxing cool down. (via Mayo Clinic)
When stretching, you'll want to focus on the main muscles: your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Don't bounce into a stretch, as that could cause muscle injury. Hold your stretches for at least 30 seconds and don't forget to breathe regularly.
You can make your stretches workout-specific, too! So for example, if your workout focuses on your legs, focus your stretches on your calves, thighs and hamstrings.
Next time you're tempted to breeze through your stretches, think about all the benefits you get from simply stretching for a few minutes after your workout!