Stretching is an important part of any workout, but is often left out of many people’s fitness regimes. Although it may not burn many calories, making time to do your stretches is a good thing in more ways than one and it’s certainly not wasted time.
Why you should stretch
Increasing your flexibility may not be one of your key goals, but it should be. The more flexible you are and the better range of motion you have in your joints, the less likely you are to get injured (and nobody likes being injured, right?).
Doing your stretches properly at the beginning of your workout gets your body prepped for what it’s about to do, while doing stretches at the end assists with your post-workout recovery process (which means you shouldn’t feel quite so stiff the next day if you’ve pushed yourself).
It can also provide stress relief, allowing you to really unwind and focus – a must-do for anyone with a hectic lifestyle which is most of us these days!
What stretching doesn’t do
Stretching doesn’t prevent DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) which is a dull ache in your muscles that occurs 24-48 hours after an exercise session.
It’s caused by the fibers in your muscles slightly tearing when you do something challenging; they then heal up stronger so your body will be in a better position to be able to take on that same workout next time. That’s why people say you need to reevaluate your workout every 4-6 weeks to ensure you don’t plateau when your body adjusts.
Important things to remember when stretching
Stretching should only be done when your muscles are already warm. If you’ve been doing stretches at the very beginning of your workout and it’s been feeling a tad uncomfy, it’s because your muscles are more supple when they are warmed up. You shouldn’t stretch when you’re ‘cold’ otherwise you may injure yourself. Try doing 5 mins or so of light cardio/movement work before you start.
The stretches at the end of your workout can be done straight after the hard part of your exercise session finishes, but it’s better if you can do a proper cool down of another 5 mins similar to your warmup to allow your heart rate and breathing to return to normal.
If you’re short on time, remember you only really need to stretch the muscles you’re using. If you’re doing a running workout, it’s most important to stretch your legs; if you’re doing an upper body weights workout, you want to stretch your upper body etc.
Take your time and go as far as you feel comfortable. Stretching shouldn’t hurt, but you should feel the stretch – it’s not a competition so don’t worry if you can’t touch your toes when you first start! The good thing about stretching is that it does get better with practice.
Photos / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Ambro