Regular stretching is important for maintaining a healthy and well-functioning body, yet many of us neglect this part of the workout cool-down and avoid regular stretching throughout the day. “I do yoga sometimes,” you say? Well, that monthly — or even weekly — yoga class isn’t enough. Our muscles and joints rely on regular stretching to perform their jobs and our bodies need it for good posture and overall health.
If you don’ t know where to get started, don’t worry. In this article, we guide you through the why, when, what and how of stretching.
Why should I stretch?
Many of us have woken up with some sort of ache, pain or muscle soreness due to lack of stretching the day before. Or, maybe you noticed that some movements you used to do during workouts feel more difficult or you can’t perform the full range of motion. If either of these sounds like you, it’s time to get serious about stretching.
In addition to relieving those morning aches and improving your range of motion during exercise, stretching has a number of benefits.
Stretching prevents injury
Stretching on a regular basis helps prevent wear and tear on the joints because supple muscles allow for fluid joint movement and a full range of motion. To better visualize this, imagine a piece of modeling clay like Plasticine. If you move it suddenly when it’s cold, it’ll likely snap. However, once you warm it up, it’s more pliable and the same sudden movement will simply extend the clay. This is exactly how the muscles work. If we don’t stretch regularly, the sudden movement might cause an injury like a muscle sprain or strain. For those with arthritis, stretching is a great way to keep muscles and joints mobile, therefore preventing the stiffness which can lead to the arthritis pain.
More energy with better circulation
Stretching is a great way to give your body a quick boost of energy. When we stretch, we warm up the muscles and improve blood circulation throughout the body. This flood of fresh blood, oxygenated blood helps you feel energized.
Yes, you read it right: the more you stretch, the better your breathing. There is a big, dome-shaped muscle at the base of your chest called the diaphragm. It contracts, air is drawn into the lungs. If this important muscle is tight, it’ll limit the amount of oxygen drawn into the lungs. Stretch these muscles with cobra pose and other abdominal stretches.
Improve athletic performance with stretching
The more flexible you are, the greater your range of motion. An increased range of motion will give you more power and strength. Imagine a golfer. If the athlete’s upper body is tight, he or she will only be able to swing halfway because the range of motion is limited. Stretching will help the golfer use their full range of motion and channel the maximum power in their swing.
Stretch for better posture
Most of us spend a lot of time seated which compromises our posture over time. Muscles start to weaken and tighten, leading to musculoskeletal imbalances, injuries, aches and pains. Learn more in our article about sitting being the new form of smoking.
Stretching for lower back pain
Lower back pain is common amongst those who sit for most of the day (during a long commute or at a computer). These individuals typically have weak upper backs from slouching over and weak lower backs because they aren’t working those muscles throughout the day. Stretching can relieve the pain in these areas and help strengthen back muscles.
Different types of stretching
There are a few different types of stretching. We’ll review three common types — dynamic, static and ballistic — and their specific use cases and benefits.
What: Dynamic stretching means stretching with movement. To stretch dynamically, enter a stretch position, then release after 2-3 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times based on how intense your workout will be.
When: This type of stretching is perfect to do before any type of workout to get blood flow going and to ensure your muscles warm up to prevent injury. Do dynamic stretches after a proper warm-up or incorporate them into your warm-up.
How: Things like lunges with rotation, body weighted squats and arm rotations are great dynamic stretches. Just make sure your warm-up is a minimum of 5 minutes.
What: Static stretching involves holding a pose for a longer period of time and is the most frequent type of stretching people do. Holding stretches longer allows you to go deeper and squeeze more toxins, metabolic waste and lactic acid out of the muscles.
When: Static stretching is great to do after a workout — basically when the muscles are already warmed up. Warming up prior to static stretching makes the muscles more pliable, helping prevent injury and get a deeper stretch.
How: To learn how to get started with static stretching, read our article. Aim to hold static stretches for a minimum of 15 seconds to really reap the benefits.
What: Ballistic stretching is easily confused with dynamic stretching, however this type of stretching uses rapid bouncing and repetitive types of movements to increase your body’s range of motion.
When: Ballistic stretching is usually done after dynamic stretches and is included in the warm-up. Ballistic stretching is a hit among athletes who want to increase their range of motion for performance, and for people warming up for high-impact sports.
How: An example of ballistic stretching is bouncing up and down to touch your toes, each time aiming to get a little bit further.
Although it’s a great type of stretching for those looking to improve range of motion, focus on dynamic stretching and static stretching if you are new to exercising or stretching.
How often should I stretch?
Flexibility is relative — the less you work on it, the tighter you’ll be. Here at 8fit, we advise that you start every workout with a proper warm-up and end with a cool-down routine. During the warm-up, include some dynamic stretches, then in the cool-down focus on static stretches. But, it’s not always enough to stretch during exercise times. To easily incorporate stretching into your day-to-day, pencil it in! A great way to get started is by stretching first thing in the morning. Our 8fit yoga workouts are perfect for this.
Stretching in the morning will help you feel energized, yet calm, and ready to start your day. Another way is by doing a quick stretch every time you get up from your desk or as you put your lunch together in the afternoon.
Remember, like with anything, consistency is key. The more you do it, the easier it will become.