Is stretching good for you?
There are many benefits to regular stretching. Not only can stretching help increase your flexibility, which is an important factor of fitness, but it can also improve your posture, reduce stress and body aches, and more.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of stretching, plus how to start a stretching routine.
9 Benefits of stretching
1. Increases your flexibility
Regular stretching can help increase your flexibility, which is crucial for your overall health. Not only can improved flexibility help you to perform everyday activities with relative ease, but it can also help delay the reduced mobility that can come with aging.
2. Increases your range of motion
Being able to move a joint through its full range of motion gives you more freedom of movement. Stretching on a regular basis can help increase your range of motion.
One study found that both static and dynamic stretching are effective when it comes to increasing range of motion, although proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)-type stretching, where you stretch a muscle to its limit, may be more effective for immediate gains.
3. Improves your performance in physical activities
Performing dynamic stretches prior to physical activities has been shown to help prepare your muscles for the activity. It may also help improve your performance in an athletic event or exercise.
4. Increases blood flow to your muscles
Performing stretches on a regular basis may improve your circulation. Improved circulation increases blood flow to your muscles, which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness (also known as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS).
5. Improves your posture
Muscle imbalances are common and can lead to poor posture. One study found that a combination of strengthening and stretching specific muscle groups can reduce musculoskeletal pain and encourage proper alignment. That, in turn, may help improve your posture.
6. Helps to heal and prevent back pain
Tight muscles can lead to a decrease in your range of motion. When this happens, you increase the likelihood of straining the muscles in your back. Stretching can help heal an existing back injury by stretching the muscles.
A regular stretching routine can also help prevent future back pain by strengthening your back muscles and reducing your risk for muscle strain.
7. Is great for stress relief
When you’re experiencing stress, there’s a good chance your muscles are tense. That’s because your muscles tend to tighten up in response to physical and emotional stress. Focus on areas of your body where you tend to hold your stress, such as your neck, shoulders, and upper back.
8. Can calm your mind
Participating in a regular stretching program not only helps increase your flexibility, but it can also calm your mind. While you stretch, focus on mindfulness and meditation exercises, which give your mind a mental break.
9. Helps decrease tension headaches
Tension and stress headaches can interfere with your daily life. In addition to a proper diet, adequate hydration, and plenty of rest, stretching may help reduce the tension you feel from headaches.
There are several types of stretching techniques, including:
The most common forms of stretches are static and dynamic:
- Static stretches involve holding a stretch in a comfortable position for a period of time, typically between 10 and 30 seconds. This form of stretching is most beneficial after you exercise.
- Dynamic stretches are active movements that cause your muscles to stretch, but the stretch is not held in the end position. These stretches are usually done before exercise to get your muscles ready for movement.
- Use dynamic stretches before exercise to prepare your muscles.
- Use static stretches after exercise to reduce your risk for injury.
How to start a stretching routine
If you’re new to a regular stretching routine, take it slow. Just like other forms of physical activity, your body needs time to get used to the stretches you’re performing.
You also need a solid grasp of proper form and technique. Otherwise, you risk getting injured.
You can stretch any time during the day. On days you exercise:
- aim for 5 to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching prior to your activity
- do another 5 to 10 minutes of static or PNF stretching after your workout
On days when you aren’t exercising, still plan to schedule at least 5 to 10 minutes of time for stretching. This can help improve flexibility and reduce muscle tightness and pain.
When stretching, focus on the major areas of your body that help with mobility, such as your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, and quadriceps. For upper-body relief, try moves that stretch the shoulders, neck, and lower back.
Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and avoid bouncing.
Risks and safety tips
Stretching may not always be safe:
- If you have an acute or existing injury, only perform stretches recommended by your doctor.
- If you have a chronic or nagging injury, consider talking with a sports medicine specialist or physical therapist to design a stretching protocol that fits your needs.
- If you have any physical limitations that prevent you from properly performing a stretching exercise, consult your doctor for alternative exercises that can help increase your flexibility.
Regardless of your fitness level, there are a few standard safety tips for stretching that you should follow:
- Don’t bounce. Years ago, ballistic stretching was thought to be the best way to increase flexibility. Now, experts suggest you avoid bouncing unless these types of stretches have been recommended to you by a doctor or physical therapist.
- Don’t stretch beyond the point of comfort. While it’s normal to feel some tension when stretching a muscle, you should never feel pain. If the area you are stretching starts to hurt, back off the stretch until you don’t feel any discomfort.
- Don’t overdo it. Like other forms of exercise, stretching puts stress on your body. If you’re stretching the same muscle groups multiple times a day, you risk over-stretching and causing damage.
- Don’t go into your stretches cold. Cold muscles are not as pliable, which makes stretching a lot more difficult. The best time to stretch is after you work out, but if you’re not exercising before performing your stretches, consider warming up for 5 to 10 minutes with some light cardio, such as walking or jogging.
Whether you’re new to exercise or a seasoned athlete, you can benefit from a regular stretching routine. By incorporating 5 to 10 minutes of dynamic and static stretches into your daily workout, you can increase your range of motion, improve your posture, and ease your mind.