Stretching 101: Benefits, How To & More

One of the most overlooked components to working out is stretching, yet it’s almost as important as the workouts themselves!

Stretching is a form of exercise that is the deliberate lengthening of muscles in order to improve flexibility and range of motion.

We often forget about stretching because we don’t see the results as visibly as we do with strength training or cardio.

However, the benefits of stretching play a huge roll in how we perform in our workouts as well as how we feel in our everyday lives.

Today I want to dive into the benefits of flexibility training as well as some flexibility workouts you can add to your routine.

Different Kinds of Stretching

A woman performing an upper body stretch

Not all stretching is created equal.

Over the years, research has suggested that “cold stretching”, or stretching before you warm up or work out, might be doing more harm than good.

Knowing the right time to stretch and which type of stretching is best, at that time, is key to reaping the benefits of stretching.

There are two main types of stretching, Static and Dynamic.

Static Stretching

This is the type of stretching that comes to mind for most of us when we consider stretching. This is where you gradually lengthen a muscle and hold if for about 30 seconds. This helps to release tension in your joints, allowing the muscles to be more flexible and decreasing the risk of pulls and strains.

This stretch is great for recovery and right after your workout. Static stretching is not best when performed before you do your workout or warm up. Stretching cold muscles increases the risk of a pulling or straining a muscle. If you choose to stretch before your workout it is best to perform a warm-up of 5 – 10 minutes of light activity.

Dynamic Stretching

This is a form of active stretching, which is movement based stretching. This stretching tends to be more specific to the sport or workout you are about to complete. This allows you to prime your body for action.

Dynamic stretching helps increase blood flow and activates the central nervous system. Thus, allowing for enhanced strength and range of motion during your workout. This stretching is best at the beginning of your workout and some examples are walking lunges, jumping rope, high knees, and other agility drills. These are great ways to get stretched out and warmed up for your workout.

Benefits of Stretching

Ali Gay stretching

Flexibility training can provide you with benefits in and out of the weight room. When we don’t stretch, muscles shorten and become tight; this results in joint pain and muscle damage. By adding flexibility training to our daily routines, we can help keep our muscles flexible and prevent injury.

Here are five major benefits to stretching for your body:

1. Improved Flexibility and Posture – Over time, stretching enhances the unrestricted movement of major muscle joints. Flexibility training helps to encourage proper alignment to help reverse or heal bad posture, which can leave you with fewer aches and pains.

2. Improved Blood Flow and Circulation – By stretching we enhance the body’s transportation of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood flow to our muscles. It also helps to rid waste byproducts in the muscle tissue, which can help improve recovery time.

3. Injury Prevention – By adding a dynamic stretch to your warm up you can increase core body temperature which will prepare your body for the movements that are to come.  

4. Reduced Pain and Stiffness – Through stretching you can help reduce the frequency and intensity of muscle cramps, this is especially true for those who suffer from chronic pain.

When muscles become tight, their opposing muscles become weakened, causing unnecessary wear and tear on the joints. Stretching ensures that the muscle is activated equally on both sides so that the joint can move freely and efficiently in all directions.

5. Stretching For The Mind – When we are stressed we tend to carry that stress in our muscles, causing them to become tight. Stretching is a great way to release that tension and take a mental break. Due to the increase of oxygen to your brain, you may feel an increase in energy overall.  

How To Stretch

Ali Gay stretching

My clients often ask how to become more flexible, and the answer is simple, flexibility training. The key is to know how to add it into your daily routine.

Stretching is not just for those who work out, and it is not age specific. Stretching at any age is important to reduce future pain or injury.

Tips For Stretching

  • When stretching, you want to make sure your muscles are warmed up to prevent injury. Stretching cold muscles can increase your risk of pulling a muscle.  
  • One of my favorite things to do is to start the day with morning stretches. This helps to wake up your muscles and your mind for the day ahead.
  • If you can, stretching daily is best. If this is not possible, you should try to add it in at least 2 – 3 times a week. Stretching is not only important for post-workout recovery but to keep you flexible and help with daily activities as well.
  • Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. You can hold a stretch longer for any tighter areas.
  • Focus on tight muscles which are the result of soreness and stress. This will help increase blood flow and reduce tension on those joints.
  • Do not bounce when stretching. This can create small tears causing scar tissue to form which will tighten your muscles further.  
  • When you stretch you should feel tension, not pain. If you feel pain, you’ve gone too far and should stop the move.  
  • Know which type of stretching is best. Light stretching can be done after a short warm up and a more thorough stretch should be performed after your workout.

How To Become More Flexible

A woman with an unnaturally extreme back curvature

When it comes to stretching, it helps to focus on your big muscle groups. These include; neck, shoulders, back, hips, pelvis and legs.  

A full body stretch performed multiple times a week is a great way to build up your overall flexibility, keeping your muscles strong and healthy. I like to start with my lower body and work my way up.

Here are a few of my favorite leg stretches and arm stretches broken down for you to try.

Leg Stretches

  • Lying Quad Stretch – Start the move by lying on your stomach or your side. Grab your foot with your hand and bring it toward your glutes allow your quad to be stretched out.
  • Butterfly Stretch – Great for working your inner thigh. Move down on the floor, sitting up tall, bringing both legs together at your feet. Sit down into your hips leaving your back nice and tall. Bringing your knees toward the floor feeling a deep stretch

Arm Stretches

  • Arm-Across Chest Stretch – Place your right arm across your chest. With your left hand, grip your right arm slightly above the elbow, and gently pull the arm across your body until you feel a deep stretch.
  • Behind the Head Tricep Stretch – Reach one are up bending at the elbow and reaching your forearm down behind your head and between your shoulder blades. Use your other hand to grab your raised elbow and pull it toward your head.

Wrapping Things Up

Ali Gay stretching

You can see there is a long list of benefits when it comes to adding flexibility workouts to your routine. These stretches can help prevent injury and enhance overall performance when done correctly.

Whether you start with morning stretching or add it in after your workouts, you can see long-term benefits by doing so. Listen to your body and remember that stretching should give tension to a muscle, but not pain. If you experience pain, stop and consult with your doctor.

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Faith Barbare

Faith Barbare

Writer and expert

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