Building muscle and aerobic fitness are excellent ways to improve physical health, but you need to stretch to balance it. In addition, being flexible helps to get the best results from your workouts. Stretching can work wonders for helping keep our bodies limber and avoid injuries.
It’s not only runners or gymnasts that need to stretch. Everyone can benefit from stretching, especially those who engage in physical activity. It helps protect our mobility and expand our range of motion. Most importantly, it would be best if you stretched consistently. Daily is ideal, but if you can’t commit to every day, at least several times a week is good.
The Importance of Stretching
If you sit in a chair all day, you probably have a stiff back and tight hamstrings. Tight hamstrings make it hard to extend your leg and straighten your knee. As a result, the limited range of motion can cause injury and discomfort. Similarly, when tight muscles need to do strenuous activities and then stretch suddenly, they can tear and get damaged. This will lead to injured muscles and can create a chain reaction by making way for joint injuries.
If you stretch, you can prevent those injuries and discomforts. Stretching helps keep muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. We must be flexible to maintain a healthy range of motion in the joints. Without that, our joints can become short and tight. Then, when you need to use muscles for activity, if they are weak and unable to extend all the way, that puts you at risk for pain, strains, and muscle damage.
Staying consistent and committing to regular stretching can help keep our muscles long, lean, and flexible. That will prevent your body from exerting too much force on the muscles. Furthermore, healthy muscles help us avoid falls and maintain better balance.
How to Ease Into Stretching
With so many muscles in our bodies, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed about daily stretching. You don’t necessarily need to stretch every muscle in the body. Start with these critical areas in the lower extremities that are essential for mobility, including:
- hip flexors and psoas
It’s so easy, you can practice a hamstring stretch now (hamstring stretches keep the back of your thigh flexible).. First, sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Then extend your arms, bending at the waist and without bending your knees. Go as far as you can without pain, and keep your back straight. Hold for 30 seconds and then slowly return to a seated position.
Stretching upper extremities like the neck and back are also beneficial, as they are famous culprits for pain and soreness. Unfortunately, the lower back is a common problem for many people as they age. So, try to start once a week and gradually increase until you can commit to a daily stretch routine.
If you can find a local physical therapist or chiropractor, they can assess your muscle strength and help devise a personalized stretching program. If you have chronic conditions, consult your primary care physician before starting any new stretching regimen.
The Long-Term Benefits of Stretching
You can’t just stretch once and expect to become flexible overnight. Like any other skill, it takes time, dedication, and much practice to become flexible. Since tight muscles develop over an accumulated time and strain, it will take a few sessions to loosen them up and become flexible. It can take weeks to months to get flexible and requires a commitment over time.
If you feel bored with stretching, try starting with a beginner-level yoga class. Some people find the variety of movements and the group setting to be more fun and a greater incentive to stick to it. Then, as you feel your body gains flexibility, you can start incorporating more intensive stretches.
Proper Execution is Key
In the past, health and fitness experts thought stretching was necessary to warm up the muscles and prepare for the activity. However, emerging research shows that stretching before the muscles are warmed up can be harmful.
When the muscles are cold and the fibers are still tight, they are vulnerable to tears. Therefore, you should pump your blood to make muscle tissue more pliable. A simple five-minute warm-up, like jumping jacks or a jog in place, is enough to get you ready for stretching. Then it would be best if you also tried to stretch after your aerobic or weight training workout.
Rather than bouncing, try to hold the stretch for 30 seconds, as bouncing can cause injuries. Stretching should feel slightly uncomfortable but not painful. If you go too far, you could tear something or damage tissue. If that happens, stop stretching and seek medical attention.
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