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How often do you stretch? Do you stretch before or after a workout? Which is the best time? Understanding the benefits of stretching will alleviate all of these questions and much more, so keep reading!
Like me, you probably skip the "stretching" portion of your workout more often than not. After all, what does it accomplish? Do you need it to build bigger muscles, lose weight faster or to enhance the definition of your muscles? The answer is not really. In fact, even some of the most trained athletes and stretching "gurus" end up skipping this part of their workout. Why do they do this? Because it's sometimes boring and seemingly ineffective.
I know it doesn't burn off much energy, but it's something we should all think a little harder about. Let's not overlook the benefits of stretching any longer!
O.K., here they are...
How easily can you move? Do you feel stiff in the morning when you get up? Do you have trouble getting into your golf swing because your back is stiff? Is your overall range of motion limited? When you stretch regularly, you'll the confidence to perform certain tasks without a thought of injuring yourself (and no - this doesn't mean you should try the big-air jump at the skate park). These are just a few things that active stretching eliminate. It's just another step towards happy living.
Having great flexibility means you'll also be able to stand up straighter, walk farther, and do more things with less pain. As we age, our joints and muscles stiffen, making it more difficult to perform various tasks such as bending over, walking up steps and even sitting.
This is the most underrated of all the benefits of stretching. Most of us a living with muscular imbalance - what I mean is, antagonizing muscles are of different strengths. My personal example is when I tore my hamstring running the 60-yard dash. This occurred because my quads were stronger and more flexible than my hamstrings. When I started the sprint, my right hamstring stretched beyond its limit and tore in half.
Living with imbalanced muscles doesn't always involve an injury like this, but it can affect your range of motion and "gracefulness". In other words, someone with a weaker hamstring and stronger quads will walk with shorter steps and appear stiff while walking up a flight of steps. It's not a big difference, but as the imbalance grows, so does the total effect.
Stretching before any workout, such as a weekend tennis match, a bike race, or weight lifting can improve your ability to perform from the beginning of the event all the way to the end, with less soreness at the end. This can also reduce your recovery time! In my opinion, some stretching should be done following a warm-up routine prior to an athletic event to maximize performance. But, as with anything else, don't overdo it!
This is just basic human physiology. Blood is pumped back to your heart through your veins by the squeezing and relaxing of skeletal muscles. Because you're stretching and relaxing your muscles, you'll increase circulation. This has obvious benefits such as increased oxygen delivery, reduction in cramping and an increased capacity for performance. Furthermore, because of this increased circulation, stretching after you workout can help rid your body of the accumulated lactic acid that makes your muscles feel sore. It's a great way to make sure your muscles will use energy as efficiently as possible, even if they're tired.The benefits of stretching can go a long way to helping you live a healthier, more rewarding life. Don't take it for granted! My own reading about stretching has prompted me to make sure I'm doing it to some capacity daily.
Here's one of those stretching myths. Most people believe you should stretch before you start your workout (a non-competitive workout), whether it's jogging, lifting or going for a bike ride. What do you do then? Do a warm up routine before stretching! Then start your work out afterwards.
Cooling down is similar. It's important to do some sort of stretching when your workout is over and while you're still sweating. This helps maintain blood flow for a longer period of time, shortening recovery time and soreness while also allowing blood to flow back to the heart. The alternative would be to not stretch at all or do any sort of cool down routine, which will cause your circulation to slow considerably over a short period of time.
What happens is that your blood will become trapped in the muscle, depriving the heart of oxygen while also slowing recovery times and increasing soreness the next time you head to the gym. In fact, stretching after your workout in the form of a cool-down routine has been shown to reduce injuries.
It's also important to wait until your heart rate has been reduced and you've stopped panting before stretching after your workout. Reaching down to touch your toes forces your heart to pump harder (because it will have to pump uphill). Doing this while your heart is already short on oxygen (all the blood is in the muscles!) will reduce oxygen flow to your brain which can result in fainting. Keep your heart as high as possible! This makes sure your heart continues to pump downhill in a less stressful manner.
After your cardio workout, place your hands on top of your head and take deep breaths. This keeps your heart in an upright position and pumping downhill, allowing for sufficient blood flow to all sections of the body.
Yes! But only when done at the right times, in the right ways. For example, people tend to think they should stretch before they go for a jog. Extensive research indicates that stretching before you warm up actually has a higher incidence of injury than stretching after you workout. Give it a shot!
Here're some more stretching tips you should remember to help maximize the benefits of stretching...
The key is to have some slight discomfort without sharp pain. If it hurts, don't do it. This is your body telling you to stop! It's that simple. There should be no sharp pain shooting up and down the muscle you're stretching. If this is you, ease off the stretch a bit and work up to that point of elasticity. There's no need to overdo it.
As you can see, the benefits of stretching far outweigh the disadvantages, assuming you're performing the stretches often enough, at the right times and, hopefully, correctly! I hope that by reading this page you've begun to think more about how to take care of the muscles you have, in addition to building and toning them.
Much more information will be added to this page, including stretching routines and some specialty workout ideas. Check back often!
Questions? Comments? Stories? Let's hear what you have to say!
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