The Benefits and Basics of Stretching Exercises
Stretching is one of the easiest ways to increase fitness. Flexibility enhances the quality of your daily life. It may also help prevent injury. Anybody can stretch, and it doesn't cost you anything or take a lot of energy. That's not to say you don't have to work at it…you do but the long-term rewards far outweigh the initial effort.
If you've never been a fan of stretching, prepare to commit to this activity on a whole new level. Stretching takes a lot of patience, but it can improve your performances.
Starting Out Stretching
Stretching or flexibility training may be something you consider too time-consuming. Many people are not motivated to stretch because it's not a competitive activity. It’s true—stretching is passive. So, ultimately, the real motivation has to come from you. You also have to have a long-term vision of what you’ll get out of it.
Not only do you have to be committed, you have to be consistent. If you begin, see some improvement, and then abandon your stretching for months, your gains will quickly be erased. Your body will regress back to its previous range of motion. You’ll negate all the effort and time you've put in.
But, if you stick with it, stretching can give you a foundation that will positively affect almost every aspect of your fitness. With flexibility, you can lift weights or even do aerobics more safely. Without flexibility, your range of motion in almost any activity is limited, and you become much more susceptible to injury.
Stretching may not seem to be the most exciting thing to do. But a quick review of the benefits of greater flexibility might help you look at stretching in a whole new way:
1. Improved Performance
Stretching can have a positive impact on your performance in any sport. Here’s how:
- The more flexible a joint, the greater ability it has to move through a bigger range of motion and function more efficiently.
- Stretching increases the ability of muscle fibers to generate force despite accumulation of lactic acid.
- Because muscle fibers act by contracting, the longer they are to begin with, the more they are able to contract.
2. Injury Prevention
Exercise physiologists generally agree that greater flexibility makes a person less likely to injure himself. Also, stretching before exercise helps to warm muscles and introduces your body to the stress of exercise more gradually. A good warm-up reduces the likelihood of injuries due to working cold muscles too hard, too soon.
3. Greater Joint Elasticity
Stretching results in greater circulation to the joints. Stretching increases the temperature of the tissue. Increased temperature boosts the blood supply and nutrients to joints. This process promotes greater elasticity in the surrounding tissue.
4. Better Posture and Movement
Stretching improves muscular balance and awareness. Stretching helps to realign soft tissue structures. These may have developed poorly through a lifetime of poor posture or normal wear and tear. Realigning tissue structures helps maintain good posture. It also promotes good form in daily activities, such as walking and running.
5. Decreased Back Pain
Stretching may improve any lower back pain you may be feeling. That’s because the back is a highly complex area. Your back may often get tight from normal daily activity. Improvements in flexibility could help. Increased flexibility in hamstrings, hip flexors, and muscles attached to the pelvis could also help relieve stress to your back.
6. Relieved Muscle Tension
Stretching can relieve muscle tension. When muscles are tense for a long time, the flow of oxygen to these muscles can be cut off. The result is a buildup of lactic acid in tissues. This can cause fatigue and muscle tightness, or knotting. Stretching can help break up those muscle knots and release lactic acid into the bloodstream. That will help you avoid injury. It will also help you recover faster from a workout.
Now that you know about all these benefits, commit to stretching before and after a workout. Stretch on a regular basis and, pretty soon, you’ll start seeing some real results.