Since flexibility is one of the five components of fitness, there are many reasons to include stretching in your fitness program. As a former ballet dancer, I am an ardent believer in stretching. Having supple muscles is so important for your body to feel great. When your muscles are tight, everything can become achy. This can make moving more difficult, which is one of the last things you want when you are working out. While I am not suggesting you have to be able to get your leg over your head, you do want to have enough flexibility to be able to move with ease, which is one of the reasons to include stretching in your daily routine. There are several other reasons you will want to stretch often.
1. Increases Range of Motion
Range of motion (ROM) is defined as the degree of flexibility in a joint. Having good ROM is critical for being able to exercise at your full potential, and it is very important for staying injury free. If you have a limited ROM, you have an increased chance of experiencing pain or obtaining an injury, neither of which is desirable. If you have already sustained an injury, you probably have limited ROM and careful stretching can help bring your injured body part back to having full motion. Not only will this help with any pain, but it will also help get you back into your full exercise routine, which is one of several reasons to include stretching in your exercise routine.
2. Decreases Risk of Injury
I have already established that having good ROM in your joints will decrease the risk of injury. Having flexible muscles will also greatly help reduce the chances you will sustain an injury. Flexible muscles are much less likely to get injured. It is much more difficult to pull or strain a muscle that has flexibility. Muscle tears can also occur if you are too tight. To keep your risk of getting an injury minimal, make sure that you stretch often. Just be sure not to overstretch. You can sustain an injury from overstretching, so never stretch to the point that you are in pain.
3. Prepares Body for Exercise
Before you begin your exercise routine, you should gently stretch. Gentle stretching will prepare your muscles for exercise by loosening them up. When you do your pre-exercise stretching, it is important to remember that your muscles aren’t warm yet. You want to be extra kind to cold muscles. Some great pre-exercise stretches include calf stretches, hamstring stretches, and ankle circles. You can also circle your arms to get your whole body involved, making your body much more ready to engage in a workout.
4. Relieves Post Exercise Soreness
Stretching after a workout will prevent your muscles from tightening up. When you work out, your muscles shorten and become stiff. To counteract this, you need to stretch after you exercise. Stretching allows your muscles to relax by helping them get more oxygen. Tight muscles cut off circulation, which results in a lack of oxygen and nutrients reaching them. You can easily prevent this from happening by taking ten minutes after your workout routine to stretch your muscles. Not only will this help you keep from getting sore, it will also allow you to increase your flexibility. Warm muscles are much more responsive to stretching.
5. Helps with Circulation
I briefly mentioned that tight muscles cut off circulation. Stretching will keep your blood supply reaching your muscles and joints. This is very important because having good blood supply to muscles and joints means they will get the nutrients needed for repair. Exercise causes micro tears in your muscles that need to be repaired. The only way for this to happen is to have good circulation. So, make sure you set aside enough time to stretch.
6. Prevents Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is one of the most common types of pain. Many people experience lower back pain and don’t know how to make it better. Stretching can greatly relieve lower back pain. Two of the most common causes of lower back pain are tight hamstrings and tight hip flexors. Also, if any muscle that attaches to the pelvis is tight, you can experience lower back pain. Fortunately, stretching is a very simple solution to lower back pain. Making sure you stretch all of the muscles that surround your pelvis will really help relieve any pain you may be experiencing. It can take some time, but stretching often works.
7. Better Alignment
One of the benefits of stretching is that you will have better posture and alignment. Having good alignment is critical if you want to stay injury and pain free. To ensure you have excellent posture, you should stretch your shoulders, neck, and upper back. Also, stretching your hamstrings will help keep your lower back in alignment. Tight hamstrings can cause your lower back to sway, which puts a lot of strain on your back muscles. You can easily prevent this by stretching often.
Stretching is an important part of any workout routine. I always make sure I stretch before and after I work out, and I always feel better for it. It is so easy to set aside a few extra minutes to stretch, and the reward is well worth it. Do you make sure you include stretching in your exercise routine?