Uh oh, my back nearly went getting out the car…… my body feels so stiff getting up in the morning…. I get random aches and pains during the day sat at my desk….. I struggle to do my shoe laces up…… It takes me a few days to recover and not feel tight after a workout….
Does this sound familiar?
It sounds like you may need to build a stretch routine into your lifestyle, or if you are stretching, are you doing it properly?
It’s very easy to make up the excuses, but your quality of life will be far better if you stretch, even a few times a week. Instead of ‘I don’t have time’, make time! Do it in front of the television at night, get out of bed 5 minutes earlier in the morning, or could you fit it into your lunch break?
Imagine an elastic band, sat in your desk drawer for a year, when suddenly you need one for those leaflets you have just printed off. You find the band but it snaps as you try and put it round the leaflets, this is what happens to your muscles if you don’t stretch regularly, they will lose mobility and you increase your risk of injuries.
If you have a desk job or drive for a long time, your hip flexors will become tight as your hips are constantly flexed, and your glutes will be made to lengthen to compensate. It won’t only effect these muscles, leaning forward will cause your chest muscles to become short and tight and your upper back to lengthen, over time becoming weak! This will have a major influence on your posture making your shoulders rounded, and perhaps making an excessive curvature in your spine, certain muscle groups will become imbalanced causing you grief.
Stretching these muscles will alleviate pain and soreness in joints and muscles, increase your flexibility which will make day to day activities easier and help improve your posture. Reduced flexibility in a certain muscle or joint can eventually change your biomechanics, (the way your body functions.) This can cause stiffness and soreness in other parts of your body due to compensations being made, your aching shoulder may actually be caused by your tight hamstring muscles!
Stretching will also give you more energy, so if you manage to find time in your lunch break to have a 10 minute stretch, your mind and body will be refreshed and replenished with energy to get through the remainder of the day.
The Importance of Stretching for Exercise
Many of you can probably think back to gym class or PE at school and being made to perform static stretches before you started the class, static stretching means holding a stretch for 20-30 seconds. This is actually not as good for you as was once thought. If you stand still and stretch a cold muscle you are likely to cause injury to yourself as it won’t be very pliable. Think of plasticine, if you try and stretch while cold it just snaps, but how much easier it is once you have warmed it up in your hands.
Static stretching can also lower your performance because it decreases your strength and power, reduces stability around a joint, which may increase your risk of injury, due to muscles becoming looser and weaker.
The best thing for you to do is a dynamic stretch e.g. moving your body part in and out of the stretch like lunging, squats, arm circles, leg swings for 10-12 reps. Dynamic stretching should include movement patterns which are going to be used in the main workout. Your body should be constantly moving during the warm-up to raise the temperature in your muscles and keep them warm and ready to go. It will also improve your mobility short and long term.
There is a time and a place for static stretching and this is after your workout when your muscles are warm, it will help bring your body temperature back down, reduce muscle soreness, relieve tension in your muscles and maintain and increase flexibility around a joint!
DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) is the feeling of pain you may get up to 72 hours following an exercise session. This is because you will have produced tiny tears in your muscle fibres which mend to become bigger and /or stronger. Stretching increases the blood flow to these areas, reducing the pain and helping to maintain and improve your flexibility. The increase in circulation will also ensure any needed oxygen and nutrients get to the muscles, as tight muscles will inhibit this process.
Greater flexibility increases your performance in physical activity. If you increase your range of movement at a joint, then you will achieve greater gains whilst performing an exercise, (e.g. getting deeper in your squat).
So, there are so many reasons why you should be stretching regularly, and this is not just limited to during and after an exercise session, the benefits will help you day to day by preventing injuries, reducing the chance of back pain (flexible hips and hamstrings help pull your pelvis into correct alignment reducing stress on your spine.) Stretching improves your posture, range of movement, flexibility, energy levels and helps manage stress levels as you are relieving your muscles of tension.