Needless to say, exercise is important and does wonders for your health and well-being. But what about stretching? Is it essential or just an optional part of your exercise routine?
In this article, we will help you understand why different types of stretching can help you:
- Improve agility and athleticism;
- Decrease your risk of injury; and
- Improve your joint range of motion (ROM).
We’ll also provide you tips on how to stretch correctly and the best time in the day to perform it. Before we proceed, let’s first discuss the benefits of stretching.
Benefits of Stretching
Studies pertaining to the benefits of stretching have yielded mixed results thus far. Some research results show that lengthening your muscles and holding the stretch at once right before participating in a race may slightly worsen your performance. Meanwhile, others suggest that stretching does not relieve muscle soreness after exercise.
But the consensus among these studies shows that stretching does help in improving your joints’ flexibility and ROM. We can all benefit from having better flexibility as it:
- Helps decrease the risk of injuries in your body;
- Aids in improving your performance in physical activities;
- Enables your muscles to work their absolute best; and
- Assists your joints to move through their full ROM.
Finally, stretching also aids in improving blood flow to your muscles. Whether you do it after hitting the trail, soccer field, or ballet floor, you will find stretching to be a vital part of your exercise routine.
How to Stretch Effectively
While stretching is beneficial, performing it the wrong way will only waste your time, not to mention, increase your risk of injury. Keep in mind that when you stretch a muscle, you are also doing the exact opposite of what it usually does. For example, in the case of your elbow, the function of its muscle is to bend. Therefore, in order to stretch it, you need to strengthen your elbow. If a muscle straightens your knee or flexes your hip, you need to bend your knee or extend the hip to achieve a stretch.
To stretch, not just effectively but safely as well, you must design your stretching routine following the four main principles of stretching slowly, avoiding pain, stretching the right muscles, and working only the necessary muscles and joints.
Throwing your arms or legs out while stretching will cause the muscle to stretch too fast. Once this happens, your body will think that the muscle is about to get torn or injured. As a result, it will attempt to protect the muscle by contracting it again, preventing you from accomplishing your goal.
As we mentioned, if you stretch to the point of pain, your body’s defence mechanisms will start to kick in, thinking that something dangerous is happening. In contrast, stretching with care will cause your muscles to react in the desired manner.
However, minor discomfort felt during a stretch is alright if it does not spread to other parts of your body. Here, being able to tell the difference between the burn of stretching and actual discomfort that can lead to an injury becomes crucial.
Stretch the Correct Muscles
This principle may appear obvious, but using the correct techniques when stretching is often overlooked. Going just a few degrees in the wrong direction can spell the difference between stretching the muscle and pulling on your joint capsule or harming your body in other ways. That is why it is essential for you to do things right, to save your body and valuable time.
Avoid Affecting your other Muscles and Joints
Employing improper/ineffective techniques when stretching can have adverse effects on your muscles and joints, making your health and fitness even worse. This fairly common mistake is one of the reasons why many individuals regard stretching to be unnecessarily painful, even worthless.
When is the Best Time to Stretch
Before or After a Workout
Opinions still vary on whether it is fine to stretch before, after, and/or during a workout, although it is important to perform have a stretching routine to stay fit and feel good. If you are into lifting weights, stretching both the muscle you are working on and its antagonist (the muscle that is relaxing or lengthening) can prove beneficial. Your stretching routine becomes easier, and the risk of injury will dramatically decrease if the antagonist is pliable and more flexible.
On a Warm or Cold Day
Not a few individuals feel more flexible and comfortable when they are warm. The question is, can you stretch without warming up first? Following the basic guidelines on stretching will eliminate the risk of getting injured. The thing is, it may be difficult and impractical for you to warm up each time if you are addressing a condition that that requires you to stretch at least ten times a day.
Making it a Part of your Daily Routine
To answer the question, “when is the best time to stretch?” it should be part of your daily habits to get the most out of your stretches. Just like showering or brushing your teeth, your muscles require their daily dose of maintenance too. Although you may feel silly stretching in odd places, say at work, it can help you avoid throwing your back out or even getting headaches.
Proper stretching rightfully demands the right techniques and putting them to practice often. As the cliché goes, practice makes perfect. You need to make sure that all your angle’s are accurate as you begin your movement. Of equal importance is moving at the right pace while observing proper posture.