Many people know they should stretch — but they don’t know exactly why.
As a result, stretching is often neglected. But there are a host of reasons why stretching is a great practice. Let's go over em!
What does it do for you?
First and foremost, stretching improves flexibility—the ability of a joint to move through a full range of motion without pain. Short, tight muscles restrict the movement of joints, which can cause pain, reduce mobility, and limit athletic performance.
Think about the overhead squat, which requires many joints to go through a large range of motion with an object held overhead. Tight muscles around the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, and wrists can limit joint movement and throw the whole stack out of whack. This is why the overhead squat is the most challenging position we have and the most powerful tool to test mobility - it exposes any joint that has a limited range of motion.
Stretching can help preserve or improve flexibility and it also allows you to build strength across a joint’s full range of motion. For example, if very tight muscles prevent you from squatting to depth, you might struggle to rise if you sit in a very low chair. But if increased flexibility allows you to train the full range of motion, you’ll have more strength to rise from a low seat. This is only made more important as you get older!
In other cases, a lack of flexibility can prevent you from getting into “safe” or mechanically sound positions. For example, it’s common for people to hurt their backs when lifting boxes because they can’t get their joints into optimal positions for lifting due to tight hamstrings or hips. But if their muscles allowed them to set up properly, their backs would be just fine (a coach can teach you how to lift!).
What's the worst that could happen?
With these examples in mind, you can imagine how tight muscles will affect balance as the joints struggle to get where they need to go. Going back to the squat, imagine one hip is very tight and the other is not. This imbalance can cause shifting, unequal loading and loss of balance. In the long term, this can lead to overuse injuries on the one side. When pairs of joints have equal and full ranges of motion, the body can work naturally, and balance and coordination improve.
When you think of tight muscles and restricted joints, you probably think of tension, stress, discomfort, and even injury. All these things are common. For some, short muscles restrict movement and cause significant pain. The situation often becomes worse when the inflexible person moves abruptly by accident and the muscles aren’t prepared for it.
Imagine what happens when such a person trips and suddenly has to move quickly to break the fall. Or what if that person engages in a fitness or sports activity without warming up and has to react or move into a certain position with speed? Tell you what, nothing good is going to happen.
How do I do it?
Finally, stretching releases tension physically and mentally. Yoga is thousands of years old and many people use it to stay limber and relieve stress. That mind-body connection is a real thing, and we are oftentimes unaware of how much our body's status affects our mind. Whether you do a yoga routine or just some standard stretching, you’ll definitely feel better afterward. Your body will be more relaxed and your mind will be calmer. Stretching just feels good physically, and it offers you a chance to turn off your phone, clear your mind, and focus on your body. It will thank you for it.
There are several different stretching techniques and many different stretches. A coach can help you figure out what’s perfect for you and your goals. But as a quick general guideline, here ya go:
- Warm up with some light movement before stretching.
- Hold stretches for about 30 to 60 seconds.
- Breathe naturally as you stretch.
- Avoid pain. Some tension is normal as you work the muscles, but stretching shouldn’t hurt.
- Focus on the large muscles around the major joints: the ankles, knees, hips and shoulders.
- Stretch regularly. Even five to 10 minutes a day can make a difference.
- Keep stretching to improve or maintain range of motion. If you stop stretching, your range of motion might decrease.
Recovery tech and supplements are all the rage these days, but don’t neglect one of the most basic ways to feel good. Give regular stretching a try for a week and see how you feel. Set an alarm and plan to stretch for 10 minutes every day for seven days. You’ll feel better and you’ll probably want to keep going!To talk to a coach about stretching or ask other questions about fitness and nutrition, click here.