Ask any professional athlete and they’ll tell you that stretching is a fundamental part of their training, done day in and day out. Why? Because its positive effects go far beyond feeling supple and “springy”. Stretching is about looking after every single part of the body – every joint, every tendon, and every muscle. It isn’t just a necessary prevention for injuries, as it has also been proven to increase physical performance and overall health.
You don’t need to be an all-star, back-flipping, body-bending gymnast to reap the rewards of stretching. A simple 15-minute daily regimen will make a world of difference to your mental and physical health. Read on for everything you need to know about stretching, from the most effective ways to do it to understanding its positive impact. Whether you’re a newbie to flexibility or a yoga enthusiast, there is always more to learn, so grab a cup of herbal tea, sit back, and relax.
Why do we stretch?
We stretch to increase the flexibility and range of motion in our muscles and tendons (these connect muscles to bones). It’s an innate urge that all humans have to release stored tension and improve feelings of well-being and happiness. When muscles are inactive for a long period of time, their ability to receive oxygen is more limited, so stretching out and “opening” up spaces pumps them full of oxygen and flushes out waste.
What are the best times of day to stretch?
Most of us spend around nine hours a day staring at computer screens, sitting at desks, looking at phones, and replying to messages! We have created a lifestyle that is so far from our natural condition and often results in muscle tension, cramps, poor posture, and injuries. It’s therefore crucial to help the body move and relax as often as possible, even if that means a quick walk around the office every 30 minutes.
A good stretching regime first thing in the morning, before and after exercise, and also before bed can produce a significant positive effect on the body. Set your alarm clock just 15 minutes earlier and stretch out gently in the comfort of your bedroom.
Does stretching make you a better athlete?
Stretching alone won’t suddenly improve bleep-test scores and increase your squat weight twofold, just like drinking protein shakes without exercising won’t result in muscle growth. However, it is an essential component of any exercise regime.
Whether you’re training twice a day to get the physique of Alessandra Ambrosio or you’re on a cross-fit craze warpath to maximize strength and power, full potential is only going to be achieved when stretching is a main part of your workout. Stretching the muscles and tendons helps joints to move through a fuller range of motion, resulting in deeper squats, tighter abs, and much more.
What are the things to avoid when stretching?
Stretching may be all about loosening up the muscles and getting relaxed, but done in the wrong way it can cause more harm than good through tears or inflammation. These three key points on how not to stretch are the essential basics:
- Don’t bounce through a stretch. It’s an old technique and actually causes the muscle to contract rather than relax and can produce tears. Stick to deep static stretches after your workout and mobility work before.
- Don’t static stretch prior to training. This type of stretching reduces neural drive, which can impact your performance in a workout hugely. Studies have shown how this affects not only strength tests but endurance too. Keep stretches dynamic before a workout, doing moves such as leg swings, alternating toe touches, and lunges.
- Don’t forget to breathe! Too often, people hold their breath through a painful stretch, which stops the flow of oxygen to the muscles and doesn’t promote relaxation. It’s also possible to further deepen the stretch with deep breaths, trying to “fill out” the space you are stretching.
How long should you hold a stretch?
The answer to this question differs greatly depending on what types of stretching you are doing and its intensity. However, it’s important to know that, for static stretching, anything less than 20 seconds won’t go far in improving flexibility and actually stretching out the muscle fibers. Thirty seconds for a static stretch is the recommended time to get effective results while avoiding injury or tearing resulting from holding the stretch for too long.
What are the key stretches to incorporate into your daily routine?
- The Downward Dog: A common yoga pose, it improves flexibility in the calves, hamstrings, and shoulders.
- Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch: This move stretches out tight hip flexors and can improve lower-back pain.
- Lying Piriformis Stretch: It concentrates on the glutes and hips.
- Lying Spinal Twist: This move lengthens the spine and increases flexibility in the lower back and hips.
- Camel Pose: It helps to stretch and open the entire front of the body whilst increasing the flexibility of the spine.
Use this ultimate guide to stretching to feel relaxed and flexible in no time!