It’s often repeated that stretching is a vital component of every workout, but why? Is it just a preventative method to help stave off injuries, or is there more to it? Well, as it turns out, stretching can:
Repetitive use of one group of muscles can make them tighten and shorten, leading to pain and poor balance. This is especially true for people who often carry heavy purses, backpacks or small children. Nicole Palacios, a certified personal trainer, explains that the heavier the object, the tighter a body can become in the area bearing the most weight from that object. Stretching can relieve muscle tightness and help regain balance.
Prevent Post-Workout Soreness
The soreness that can follow exercise, especially that which focuses heavily on weight training, is often attributed to muscles shortening and therefore tightening after a workout. One way to fend off this discomfort is to stretch the same muscles trained immediately following a workout. This will help lengthen the muscle fibers that naturally shortened during exercise, which in turn will help prevent the characteristic post-exercise aches.
Improve Overall Health
Stretching doesn’t always have to be tied explicitly to exercise. The same sorts of stretches as found in yoga can help relieve stress and muscle tension while also lowering blood pressure and heart and breathing rates.
Regular stretching can improve circulation by easing the pathways for nutrient-rich blood to all areas of the body. This is often especially helpful for those who suffer from circulatory problems caused by diabetes or atherosclerosis.
Reduce Joint Strain
As muscles tighten, the opposing muscles weaken. This combination puts unnecessary stress on joints. Stretching can help maintain muscle balance so that joints are subject to equal pull, thereby allowing them to retain equal ranges of motion as well.
According to the American Council on Exercise, regular stretching can improve flexibility, which in turn “can help enhance agility, power, speed, and muscle strength.”
Finally, yes, stretching can help prevent injuries during exercise. Cold muscles that have not yet been acclimated to exercise are more prone to strains, sprains and other injuries than are warm muscles. Accordingly, stretching is a key component of a healthy workout, as warming up the muscles themselves (as well as increasing the core body temperature) prepares the body for increased movement and reduces the risk of injury.
Matthews, Jessica. “10 Reasons Why You Should Be Stretching.” American Council on Exercise. April 19, 2017. Accessed January 29, 2018. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/6387/10-reasons-why-you-should-be-stretching.
Publishing, Harvard Health. “The importance of stretching.” Harvard Health. September 2013. Accessed January 29, 2018. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching.
Usigan, Ysolt. “6 Good Reasons You Need to Stretch.” Shape Magazine. December 10, 2015. Accessed January 29, 2018. https://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/6-good-reasons-you-need-stretch.