Many of us are guilty of rushing out of a gym class skipping the stretching. Here are some reasons why should stick around and pay attention to those stretches.
It helps muscles heal: Perhaps the most recognized benefit of stretching — and most commonly applied use — is as a recovery after strenuous exercise. "One of the main benefits of stretching is realigning tissue within the muscle and connective tendons. During physical activity, fibers can often become disorganized and stressed. Stretching helps to realign them so that they can heal properly," says Ford. "During strenuous activity muscle fibers can become overly contracted. If not properly stretched and smoothed, the fibers can be more prone to pulls, tears and a shortening of their range of motion. That’s where a good full body static stretch routine performed while the body is still warm from your cool down can be most beneficial, because your muscles are most receptive at that point.
"It prevents everyday aches and pains: When you start to notice minor aches and discomfort or limited movement in certain muscles, you may brush it off as normal tension that results from sitting at a desk, carrying a heavy load of groceries or pushing through a tough workout. But “this is the body’s way of communicating that certain muscles need some extra attention in order to facilitate better circulation and to recover faster,” says Ramsey. “If this tension is resolved, the aches tend to diminish or go away and the muscles are returned to normal function. However, if the tension in the muscle is not resolved, the muscle tends to ‘guard’ by tightening, which may continue to limit mobility and flexibility, and the body may continue to experience some level of aches or pains. Stretching, if done correctly, is one of the simplest forms of body maintenance, which almost anyone can do on their own.” Ford agrees: "I attribute proper stretching to a broad range of my athletic accomplishments and current capabilities. As a former competitive athlete, I deal with a lot of joint pain and overuse injuries. Joint pain can often be attributed to tight muscles. Stretching is one of the most effective ways to loosen those tight muscles." Stretching, if done correctly, is one of the simplest forms of body maintenance, which almost anyone can do on their own.
And it improves normal, everyday movements, too: "Another way in which stretching can be helpful is by leaving you better prepared to perform everyday physical activities. From carrying bags, to moving items in your office or home, or even running to catch the subway," says Ford. While we tend to think of stretching in terms of enhancing our physical fitness routine, Ramsey adds that "stretching compliments and enhances everything else we do throughout the day” as well.
It can help you de-stress: "Finally, stretching can be really relaxing. The best forms of stretching include a breathing component that connects breath to movement, ala yoga," says Ford. "When you’re taking deep breaths and really feeling and listening to your body while stretching, it works almost as a form of meditation. I always feel more centered after my post-workout static stretch."
It improves your workouts: “Stretching is a simple and effective activity that helps to enhance athletic performance, decrease the likelihood of injury, and assists with injury rehabilitation,” says Brad Walker, author of “Ultimate Guide to Stretching" and the Director of Education at StretchLab, an L.A.-based assisted stretching franchise concept, that offers both one-on-one stretching and group classes. “As a result, a reduction in general muscle tension is achieved and our ability to bend, reach and turn is improved. How exactly does an increase in range of motion translate to our weekly bootcamp or yoga class? "I’ve been able to work out harder and more efficiently by maintaining my flexibility and range of motion throughout all of my joints by stretching," says Ford. "A greater range of motion can lead to gains in physical performance. For instance, if you have tight hips and a lower back, you’ll be limited in your range of motion during a squat or lunge exercise. This means that you can’t fully utilize all the muscles used during the motion, plus you’ll most likely also be putting more pressure on the supporting ligaments of the joints used. As you improve your flexibility you will be able to use the proper muscles during the movement and those muscles to better effect."