What is the significance of stretching? Stretching has many advantages, including increased flexibility and strength as well as stress relief.
The importance of stretching
Stretching sore and achy muscles after waking up or in the middle of the day is an excellent way to relieve discomfort in the whole body.
While many people stretch simply because it feels nice, there are many other potential benefits of stretching that will motivate you to incorporate this gentle type of movement into your daily routine.
“Regular stretching will help you improve your flexibility, which is an important part of your overall health,” says Katelyn DiGiorgio, Pure Barre’s vice president of training and technique. “Improving your versatility will allow you to perform daily activities with relative ease and with less risk of injury, whether they are small, like picking up a box, or large, like skiing.”
Before we get into the more practical benefits of stretching, let’s go over the different forms of stretching and when they’re best used.
The main types of stretching
There are four primary methods of stretching, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM):
- Stretching that is static (done actively or passively)
- Stretching that is complex (often referred to as a dynamic warm-up or cooldown)
- Stretching with proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)
- Stretching in a ballistic manner
Stretching with PNF is most often used in preparation and therapy sessions. As a result, it’s not something you can attempt without the assistance of a qualified professional.
The ACSM does not recommend that people do ballistic stretching as a daily part of their routine because of the high risk of injury.
When we discuss the advantages of stretching, the other two categories—static and dynamic stretching—are the most important.
“Static stretching is achieved while the body is at rest in a standing, sitting, or lying position,” DiGiorgio explains. “The stretch is kept in a difficult yet attainable position, usually near the end of the range of motion, for around 15 to 45 seconds without moving.”
A static stretch is when you bend forward and touch your toes while keeping the forward bend for several seconds.
Here are a few static stretch examples:
- Stretching a seated butterfly
- Hamstring stretch in a seated forward fold
- Stretching the hamstrings when standing in a forward fold
- Stretch the quadriceps while standing.
After a workout, static stretching is normally done as part of the cooldown.
“As muscles cool down after exercise, they begin to get tight,” DiGiorgio says. “Easing your muscles into the stretch by gradually moving your body from movement to static stretching will help you gain flexibility and mobility.”
Dynamic stretching entails repeatedly rotating the joints and muscles across their full range of motion without pausing.
Dynamic stretches are functional movements that are a perfect way to warm up the body before some form of exercise, according to DiGiorgio.
When trainers speak about warming up before a workout, they’re referring to dynamic stretches that prepare the body for the upcoming workout.
Here are a few dynamic stretching examples:
- Lunge with a rotation of the upper body
- Push knees to chest alternately.
- Swinging your legs
- Knees that are too high
According to physical therapist Bianca Beldini, owner of Sundala Wellness in South Nyack, New York, the trick to dynamic stretching is to do moves that mirror the movements in your upcoming workout. As a result, the complex stretches you perform before a run will vary from those you perform before a swim workout.
The more practical your dynamic stretches are, meaning they’re tailored to the activity you’ll be doing, the better, says Beldini.
This is also why static stretches are ineffective before a workout. Sports and exercises usually entail movement rather than simply stretching into a position and maintaining it for an extended period of time.
What are the benefits of stretching?
Stretching isn’t a cure-all for staying limber and fit while avoiding injury. Your physical well-being is influenced by a variety of factors.
Stretching, on the other hand, has a number of possible benefits that make it worthwhile to set aside five minutes before and after your workout. The nine advantages mentioned below are all compelling reasons to stretch on a regular basis.
1. It warms up your body for a workout
Pre-workout dynamic stretches are a perfect way to get your blood flowing and your body warmed up so it’s ready to perform during a tough workout.
Beldini explains, “Dynamic stretching stimulates the tissue’s capacity to do what you want it to do.” “It gives it a gentle nudge and says, ‘This is the thing you’re about to do.'”
Warming up also prepares the cardiopulmonary system (heart and lungs) and nervous system for the forthcoming stress, according to her.
2. It can improve flexibility
Tissues and joints that are flexible can travel across complete ranges of motion with ease.
According to research published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, both static and dynamic stretching can help increase range of motion.
“Mobility and flexibility in the joints and muscles are needed to perform proper form in almost every exercise,” she says. However, completing an exercise correctly isn’t the only benefit. You would be able to travel more efficiently in your daily life if you have a full range of motion (more on that later).
While you may feel a little more limber after only one stretch session, improving flexibility takes time and needs several stretching sessions each week.
3. It may help prevent injury
The evidence for stretching’s ability to help prevent accidents is mixed (and suggests that the answer is highly dependent on the exact activity and type of stretching used).
However, several experts, including those we consulted with for this article, agree that since improved flexibility translates to wider ranges of motion and makes it easier to perform exercises with proper form, stretching can reduce the risk of injury, even if only indirectly.
Consider this: if your hamstrings or ankles are so rigid that you can’t squat with proper form, you’re more likely to squat with poor form over time than if your joints are more flexible and you squat with perfect form every time. In addition, performing an exercise improperly increases the risk of injury.
It’s unclear if doing dynamic stretches before a workout would make a significant short-term difference or whether you’ll need to stick to a long-term stretching routine to see any real range of motion improvements.
4. It helps strength training
Better strength is one of the lesser-known advantages of stretching.
People don’t believe stretching has anything to do with power or strength, but it does, according to Beldini.
To fully utilise a muscle’s strength capacity, you must fully contract and lengthen the muscle tissue. You can recruit, or use, the entire length of a muscle by increasing the range of motion.
Consider a bicep curl as an example. Beldini states that if you can only curl the weight within 10 degrees of motion because your tissues are too rigid, you’ll only gain power within those 10 degrees.
You’re missing out on some major strength gains if you don’t move through the joint’s full range of motion. You’ll be able to curl to a greater degree if you have a wider range of motion, which will help you gain more power.
5. It makes daily activities feel easier
It is easier to perform everyday tasks with more pliable connective tissue and muscles.
“It increases range of motion, which makes stuff like touching the toes or reaching up high easier,” says Daheia Barr-Anderson, an associate professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Kinesiology.
This is, without a doubt, the most significant benefit of stretching. It becomes increasingly important as we get older.
Sure, exercise is great for becoming stronger and completing amazing workouts or running in races, but one of the most impressive advantages of stretching is the potential to make daily life simpler.
6. It improves your sense of bodily awareness
Dynamic stretching before a workout has neuromuscular benefits that help promote improved body awareness, which can help avoid injuries, according to Beldini.
Dynamic stretches help your body stay stable by priming the receptors in your brain that interact with it to know where it is in space.
Forming this communication process between your brain and your body before you start the exercise is a fantastic way to improve your chances of moving with ease and good shape and, as a result, performing better.
7. It helps prevent everyday aches and pains
Many modern-day aches and pains—lower back pain, for example—occur as a result of our inactivity, which causes our muscles to stiffen and ache.
“There is fluid inside the joints, and when you stop moving, the fluid stops moving as well, causing joints to stiffen and tighten,” Beldini explains.
Stretching and increasing flexibility and agility will help to improve circulation and keep joints supple and less rigid. “Motion is lotion,” says Beldini.
Daily yoga or vigorous stretching, according to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine, effectively decreases lower back pain and improves back function.
A total of 228 adults with chronic low back pain were included in the report. Ninety-two people attended a weekly yoga session, 91 people stretched conventionally, and 45 people read a self-care book. Yoga classes were found to be more effective than self-care books in improving functioning and minimising symptoms, but not better than stretching.
Using your lower back muscles all day long—yes, they’re engaged the whole time you’re sitting at your desk—can contribute to chronic pain, according to Barr-Anderson.
Stretches for lower back pain can help relieve discomfort and pain in those areas.
8. It helps you cool down after a workout
“After a workout, stretching exhausted and sore muscles is important because it improves flexibility and decreases muscle tension,” DiGiorgio says.
Stretching after a workout won’t fully prevent you from being sore—delayed-onset muscle soreness is caused by microtears in your muscles, which stretching won’t magically heal—but it can help you feel less sore overall.
A significant advantage of stretching after a workout? “Your muscles are already wet, so the stretches will be easier,” DiGiorgio says. It also offers you the opportunity to progressively slow down.
“Rather than stopping cold, stretching and breathing will make you feel healed and relaxed,” DiGiorgio says.
Stopping suddenly can make you dizzy or even cause you to pass out. According to Barr-Anderson, gradually cooling down causes the heart rate and body temperature to return to homeostasis.
9. It can be really relaxing
“When you combine stretching with something like deep breathing, you get the mental benefits,” says Barr-Anderson. Yoga is a great way to stretch and breathe at the same time.
You don’t have to take a formal yoga class to benefit from the calming effects. Slow, regulated, deep breathing combined with stretches helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and relax you, according to Barr-Anderson.
How to add stretching to your routine
Stretching isn’t prescribed in terms of how much you can do it to reap the benefits.
Adding two to three minutes of static stretching after a workout is a good place to start, according to Barr-Anderson. “You’ll see and feel the difference in your body.”
However, don’t restrict yourself to only one form of stretch. Warm up by incorporating dynamic stretching. You don’t have to devote a lot of time to it to see results. To best prepare the body and get it ready to run, most experts suggest a five-minute warm-up.
Barr-Anderson also recommends stretching during the workday if you have a sedentary career.
“Take a five-minute break at least once an hour. One minute of gentle stretching and movement, for example, will bring a rush of fresh blood into the system and a sense of renewal,” she says.
Concentrate on stretching the stiffest parts of the body. If once an hour is too much for you to fit into your schedule, simply allow yourself to stretch a little more anytime you get up to use the restroom or get something to eat. “Three or four hours a day would only be three to four times a day.”
Barr-Anderson frequently recommends stretching in bed first thing in the morning. When you’re lying down, bring your knees into your stomach, then stand up and spread your arms overhead. “That is one of the best ways to begin the day.”