Why is stretching important?

Stretching is one of the most overlooked aspects of health and fitness. But it’s one of the most important alongside mobility and stability. In fact, studies show that stretching has been said to have beneficial effects on injury prevention.

You may be right to think that stretching is only for gymnasts, ice skaters, or dancers who need to be flexible to get into complex positions. However, stretching is very important for everybody because you’ll be surprised how much it will help with your personal day to day activities, let alone your sport, health, or fitness goals…

There are over 7 different types of stretching. These include:

  • Ballistic stretching: Form of passive stretching or dynamic stretching in a bouncing motion. E.g. Shoulder circles
  • Dynamic stretching: warm-up stretch where you are moving as you stretch – E.g. knees to chest
  • Active stretching:  Holding a stretch with no other assistance other than the strength of your agonist muscles. E.g. Bent over lat stretch
  • Passive (or relaxed) stretching: Stretching activity where force is used to assist in the stretch. E.g. Bent knee quad stretch
  • Static stretching: involves stretching multiple or a single muscle group in the same position for at least 20-40 seconds.
  • Isometric stretching: A series of static-passive stretching which is created around contraction-relaxation techniques. E.g. Standing gastrocnemius/soleus wall stretch
  • PNF stretching: often performed with a partner, PNF stretching involves a series of contractions and relaxations where the intensity of stretch is increased after each relaxation stage. E.g. Holding the splits for 10 seconds X 3 sets increasing the intensity each time.

So why is stretching important?

1. Stretching increases range of motion

Range of motion is how far you are able to move your joints in different directions. Being able to move a joint through its full range of motion is important for you to workout safely without risk of pulling a muscle, as well as also help you improve strength and balance when you’re next training as you may be able to get your muscle into full extension.

Flexibility and range of motion are very similar terms in that they both describe the scope to which a joint can go through it’s established point of movements.

It is important to know that different joints have different ranges of motions because it is natural aspects such as bones and the soft tissue surrounding the joint that hold it together. For example, the shoulder joint (ball and socket joint) has the freest range of motion whereby you are able to move your arm in a full circle.

Summary: Range of motion (ROM) similar to flexibility, is the extent to which a joint can go through it’s established spectrum of movements. What is important to remember is that different joints have different ranges of motions, and that the better ROM you have in a joint the easier that exercise will be because your body will be able to cope with the stress of a particular movement or stretch.

2. Increases blood flow to your muscles

Stretching may also help deliver oxygen-rich blood to the stretched muscles. The founder of BE WELL, by Alana Kessler, M.S., R.D., C.D.N, said:

“Stretching improves circulation by gently pulling and tugging on the muscle and connective tissue, infusing them with conscious breath,”

“The combination of breathing with these actions helps to create fluid homeostasis in the body, supporting the health of the heart and kidneys.”

This is especially beneficial 15 minutes after a workout when your muscles are tired, warm, and mobile because static stretching may help relieve tension in tight muscles.

On the other hand, before you begin your workout it is important to do a 10-minute dynamic stretching routine as well as a 5-10 minute light cardio routine to increase your heart rate and ensure your muscles are mobile like a well-oiled bicycle chain.

Summary: Stretching improves blood circulation to the stretched muscles and in turn help support the health of the heart and kidneys. It’s important to begin a workout with a 10 minute dynamic warm up to warm up the body before exercise. Followed by a series of static stretches 15 minutes after your workout to help loosen tight muscles.

3. Decreases risk of lower back pain

Lower back pain is primarily caused by a weakness in the glute medius muscle according to Jeff Cavaliere. However, studies also show that hip flexor muscles also play a role because they are attached to your pelvis which releases stress on the lumbar spine when short and tight.

Hip muscles include:

  • Rectus Femoris
  • Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL)
  • Psoas
  • Iliacus
  • Sartorius

Stretching these muscles consistently when tight will may help reduce the risk of low-back pain. If your hip flexors are weak, they can contribute to lower back pain, imbalances in the body, and improper form.

A solution is to first stretch the hip flexors to ensure that they are loose, followed by strengthening the hip flexors.

Summary: While lower back pain can be caused by several factors and muscle groups. The hip flexors have been shown to contribute to lower back pain if these muscles are weak and tight. The solution is to stretch the hip-flexors and then strengthen when loose to provide greater stability overall.

4. Is great for stress relief

When you are in pain, your mind will be focused on that problem which can make you:

  • worried
  • in-able to focus
  • negative

Stretching is an important way to give your mind a mental break. It can be a very relaxing process and due to the physical benefits such as a reduction in muscle tightness, your mind will feel at greater ease when muscles are relaxed and no longer in pain.

There is an important part of your brain called the cerebral cortex which processes the physical pain you experience and tells you “Ouch this really hurts”. When this feeling is eradicated you can get on and enjoy your day without pain, and may help you sleep better at night with no discomforts.

Elite athlete coach – Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS said that “A static stretching routine will lengthen short muscles. It is important to stretch in the evening before bed because when you sleep, your body heals itself and when you wake up the next morning you should not only feel looser but you will likely have less muscle soreness as well.”

Summary: Physical pain is linked to mental stress. It is important to remove the problem of pain in the body through stretching, to help your mind feel relaxed and stress-free.

5. Improves your posture

With the rise of technology and healthcare, the number of people doing manual labour jobs has dropped enormously. What has replaced manual work? Office jobs. Studies show that we now sit for 13 hours a day. The number of people unaware of posture and the benefits of sitting up straight has resulted in rounded, slumped, and sore bodies.

Poor posture is common in these 4 areas:

  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Mid back
  • Pelvis

Stretching has been shown to be an important solution for fixing posture issues. Stretching the right muscles will ensure that you can open up and release tension where muscles have become accustomed to years of poor posture. Fixing your posture is a long term commitment where you must be committed to changing with consistent stretching each day.

Here are some of the best stretches that will fix your posture.

Credit to New York Mets assistant strength trainer: Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS

Summary: Due to a large number of people sitting down, whether in front of a desk or driving, poor posture is a problem that lots of people do not think is bad for their body. The solution is to stretch specific muscles consistently so that the ruined posture will gradually lessen over time. Important: Once the muscle is loose after multiple stretching routines. It is also important to strengthen weak muscles which are not supporting the posture problem.

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