Imagine getting to the gym and seeing one stationary bike open – score!
But before you jump right into your workout, if you haven’t stretched, stay right where you are. As lucky as you are not to have to wait for a machine to open up, your muscles won’t be as lucky.
Before starting any type of workout, whether it’s a jog around the park, weightlifting, or getting into the pool, you need to stretch first.
When we stretch, We make sure that our joints, muscles, and limbs are ready for the job ahead and, afterwards, can cool down effectively.
Want to know why stretching is good for you? Keep reading.
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#1. Stretching makes you more flexible
Have you ever wondered why your HIIT trainer makes you touch your toys before training starts?
However uncomfortable it can be, after a few sessions, it means you should be able to actually reach past your knees (and deadlift with proper form)!
By loosening up the muscles and joints, you’re increasing your range of motion.
And ending the workout with another stretch session (after your muscles are warmed up) can prevent injuries and reduce recovery time.
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#2. Improve your physical activity
And what does increased motion and flexibility lead to? Improved physical performance.
Take yoga, for instance, where it’s all about stretching. As you progress with the practice, you will feel your body become looser and stretch further than it did before. You might even be able to plant your feet on the floor during the downward facing dog pose after a few classes.
When we look at other types of activities, you should also start seeing improvement if you incorporate stretching.
When you’re attempting to lift that large barbell over your head, or go for a long run, if you’ve stretched, your body will already have started to work to protect your joints and muscles from injury.
But how? Stretching increases blood flow to the muscles and can improve circulation. This, again, results in shortened recovery time and less soreness.
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#3. Walk a little taller and sit a little straighter
Did you know that stretching can help improve your posture? One study found that tight and imbalanced muscles can affect your body, causing you to slouch a little more than you should.
Stretching is also said to alleviate all sorts of muscle-related aches and pains, including shoulder pain, mid back pain, and lower back pain.
The truth is that many of us have used a sore body as an excuse not to go to the gym, when it’s actually the perfect time to do so. Take it easy, do your stretches before and after workouts, and see if you feel any pain relief after. You might even feel a difference in your step.
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#4. It calms the mind
Again, if we look at yoga, it’s associated with calmness and stress relief. The reason for this is – beyond the mindfulness and meditation practices – the exercises are focused on releasing built-up tension in the muscles.
Muscles tend to tighten up in response to physical and emotional stress, so when you take time to stretch, you should alleviate some of this tension.
This is also a great solution for anyone dealing with tension headaches, as a quick stretch in the morning before work can do wonders for the body.
Whatever you do to ensure you stay active and moving, keep in mind that you need to stretch before and after every exercise session. Stretching is not only great for recovery after workouts but also as a stress diffuser when you need it most.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.