The Benefits of a Good Stretch
Can you believe that stretching not only makes you feel good, but it helps your body in many ways? Better flexibility may improve your performance in physical activities or decrease your risk of injuries by helping your joints move through their full range of motion and enabling your muscles to work most efficiently. Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscle.
While the benefits of daily exercise are numerous and well known, the benefits of a regular stretching routine are far less emphasized but just as important. Incorporating stretching into your daily workouts or your typical day on their own is just as important to health and body functioning as regular exercise.
Quite often, physical therapists see athletes and patients who could benefit from stretching to help with various areas that they may be deficient in. Such areas include posture, range of motion, flexibility, stress and circulation. Addressing these areas with stretching could not only help with improving function but reduction of injury as well.
- Posture – Tight muscles can affect your posture thus making you more susceptible to injuries. For example, tight hip flexors along with weak abdominal muscles can result in an anterior pelvic tilt and contribute to increasing stress on the back. Chronically tense and tight muscles can also contribute to poor posture. Stretching helps to ensure correct posture by lengthening tight muscles that pull areas of the body away from their intended position. Stretching the muscles of the lower back, chest and shoulders can help keep the spine in better alignment and improve overall posture.
- Range of Motion - Muscles and tendons assist in moving a joint. They need to be able to move a joint through the required range of motion when participating in various activities such as running, jumping or biking. Should these muscles be tight and limit range of motion, then they are more susceptible to being pulled or injured as they don’t move through the full or intended amount of range of motion. For example, a lack of range of motion at the ankle and foot could contribute to Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis.
- Flexibility – The most established and obvious benefit of stretching is to help improve flexibility. As one ages, individuals often note that their flexibility was not what it used to be. Muscles can become tighter, and range of motion in the joints can be minimized. A lack of flexibility can cause movement to become slower and less fluid, making an individual more susceptible to muscle strains or other soft tissue injuries. This can put a damper on active lifestyles and even hinder day-to-day, normal motions. An increase in flexibility is accompanied by improved balance and coordination.
- Stress – Stress is quite common in our busy lives. Stress can contribute to increasing tension and tightness in muscles and have a negative impact not only on the affected areas but also on one’s entire sense of well-being. Stretching can help with unwinding and with releasing feel-good chemicals – endorphins. Everyone has stress. A buildup of stress causes your muscles to contract, becoming tense. This tension has a negative impact on just about every part of your body. Like all types of exercise, flexibility exercises like stretching have powerful stress-busting abilities. Spending just a short amount of time (10-15 minutes) stretching each day can help calm the mind, providing a mental break and giving your body a chance to recharge.
- Circulation – Stretching has been proven to help with increasing circulation. With improved circulation comes increase blood flow which brings in more nutrients and takes away more waste products as a result of exercise. It has been proven to help increase blood flow to the muscles. This increase in flow brings with it a greater nutrient supply to muscles, thereby reducing muscle soreness and contributing to speed recovery from muscle and joint injuries. The less sore your muscles are, the less painful it will be to work those same muscles and to exercise in general.
Some common guidelines for stretching are:
- Do not overstretch but do stretch to the point of slight discomfort.
- Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds and stretch to simulate the activity/action you will be performing
- Stretch both sides when stretching.
- Stretch all major muscle groups (i.e. calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, groin, hip flexors)