I grew up playing on different sports teams and taking ballet classes so stretching was just a part of my normal routine each day I went to soccer practice or ballet class. As I have gotten older and no longer participate on as many sports teams I get most of my exercise from going to the gym… on my own. Therefore, I am responsible to set my own stretching routine before and after each workout. It is certainly more difficult to prioritize stretching when I am working out on my own. These tips have helped me prioritize stretching and I hope they help you incorporate stretching into your daily routine too.
The Benefits of Stretching
According to the Mayo Clinic, the top five benefits of stretching include:
1- Increased flexibility and joint range of motion: Flexible muscles can improve your daily performance. Tasks such as lifting packages, bending to tie your shoes or hurrying to catch a bus become easier and less tiring. Flexibility tends to diminish as you get older, but you can regain and maintain it.
2- Improved circulation: Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles. Blood flowing to your muscles brings nourishment and gets rid of waste byproducts in the muscle tissue. Improved circulation can help shorten your recovery time if you’ve had an muscle injuries.
3- Better posture: Frequent stretching can help keep your muscles from getting tight, allowing you to maintain proper posture. Good posture can minimize discomfort and keep aches and pains at a minimum.
4- Stress relief: Stretching relaxes tight, tense muscles that often accompany stress.
5- Enhanced coordination: Maintaining the full range-of-motion through your joints keeps you in better balance. Coordination and balance will help keep you mobile and less prone to injury from falls, especially as you get older.
Proper Stretching Techniques
1- Warm up before stretching: Stretching muscles when they are cold increases your risk of pulled muscles. Warm up by walking or doing some form of light exercise for 5-10 minutes.
2- Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds: It takes time to lengthen tissues safely. Hold your stretches for at least 30 seconds—and up to 60 seconds for a really tight muscle or problem area. Wear a watch or keep an eye on the clock to make sure you are holding your stretches long enough.
3- Don’t bounce! Bouncing as you stretch can cause small tears in the muscle, which leave scar tissue as the muscle heals. The scar tissue tightens the muscle even further, making you even less flexible and more prone to pain. If you feel pain as you stretch, you’ve gone too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
4- Relax and breathe: Breathe slowly and rhythmically while you stretch. Deep breathing helps oxygen circulate through the body and can help increase body awareness. Habitually tense muscles tend to cut off their own circulation resulting in a lack of oxygen and essential nutrients.
5- Stretch before and after activity: This will help increase flexibility and prepare your body and mind for a strenuous workout. You will also dramatically lower the possibility of injury.
Sources: about.com, ehow.com