Whether your an athlete, runner or just a general exercise goer we all need flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Stretching will help to keep the muscles flexible, strong, and heathy as without it the muscles will shorten and become tight. Meaning when it comes to needing the muscles for activity they would be weak and unable to extend all the way. Which would then put you at risk of muscle damage, stress and joint pain.
A great example of this is sitting in a chair all day (a large number of people do this due to their jobs) results in tight hamstrings. Having tight hamstrings can make it a lot harder for you to extend your leg or straighten your knee resulting in it inhibiting you when walking. In the same way when tight muscles are called upon for strenuous activity that stretches them for example playing football, squash etc. There is a high chance they can become damaged from suddenly being stretched. When you have injured muscles it can mean that they are not strong enough to support your joints resulting in joint injuries. By keeping to regular stretching routines it helps to keep muscles flexible, long and lean. So when it comes to exertion it won't put to much force on the muscle itself. Having healthy muscles will always help individuals that have balance issues preventing falling.
Where do I start?
If you have never stretched much before or you don't really know about it, it can sometimes be quite overwhelming, as we have a whole body full of muscles. Never think that you have to stretch everyone of these muscles, the main focus should be on the ones that are most used and are critical for mobility. These are your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps in your lower half and in the upper half of the body its a good idea to stretch your shoulders, neck and lower back. You should be looking at a daily program of stretches but if thats not possible then atlas 3-4 times per week. There are a few exceptions where you may have to get a doctors permission before going through a stretch routine for example arthritis and parkinson's disease.
It can take weeks or months to get good flexibility, it takes patience and commitment to get there.
For years we all used to believe that we needed to stretch as this a way to warm the body up ready for activity. Where as now after mounting research shows that stretching muscles before they are actually warmed up can damage them. This is because everything is cold the fibres aren't prepared and may be damaged. By exercising first it allows blood to flow to the area making the tissue more supple and responsive to change. It doesn't take a big warm up of the muscles before stretching only 5-10 minutes of light activity such as a quick walk or up and down some stairs.
When in a stretch position you should be holding for 20-30 seconds making sure that you are static and don't bounce as this can cause injury. During a stretch you should feel tension but never pain, if thats the case then there may be an injury or damage in the tissue so stop and speak to a professional. Stretching shouldn't just be for days when your working out but incorporated into your everyday routine as it helps to relax your muscles and to increase blood flow and nutrients to your muscles and cartilage.
3 Top health benefits of stretching
Helps with posture - By stretching correctly it will help to make sure that correct posture is maintained and feels more comfortable. This is done by lengthening tight muscles that pull areas of the body away from there intended position and keeping the muscles loose. To improve overall posture by relieving aches and pains you want to be stretching the muscles of the lower back, chest and shoulders as this will help to keep the spine in better alignment. This will also help to reduce pain meaning your desire to hunch or slouch will be reduced.
Promotes blood circulation - Stretching will help to increase blood flow to the muscles, along with this it will also help to reduce post workout soreness and will shorten recovery time. Having a good blood flow helps to promote cell growth and organ function. You will also find the heart rate will also lower as it doesn't have to work as hard and blood pressure will become more even and consistent.
Lessons the chance of injury - Through a regular routine of stretching you will help to promote a greater supply of nutrients to muscles, which results in reduced muscle soreness and will help to quicken recovery from muscle and joint injuries.