I’ll admit it. I used to skip stretching.
Rarely, if ever, would you have seen me laying on a mat, taking deep breaths and relaxing as I move deeper into a stretch. I figured, if I only have an hour in the gym, why ‘waste’ 5-10 minutes of it relaxing and stretching? I’ll get ‘more’ out of using that 5-10 minutes to really pump up the intensity and finish my workout “strong”. I can’t even begin to explain how wrong I was.
Stretching and mobility exercises truly should be an integral part of everyone’s workout routine. Stretching and having proper mobility can have an incredibly positive effect on pain, range of motion, functional mobility, and even strength (YES—having appropriate mobility DOES positively affect strength. I’ll explain later). Your program doesn’t have to take long. Even taking the last 5-10 minutes of your day working through a quick mobility routine will help you to feel better and actually get more out of your workouts. I’ll explain.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Stretching after a workout brings your muscles back to their resting lengths. Oftentimes, we repeat the same motions over and over again, whether it be at the gym or in our daily lives. Think about it – when you answer your phone, which hand do you (almost) always use? Do you type at a computer at work all day? When you are in the gym, do you balance your pushing movements with pulling movements? When doing cardio, do you always do the same machine?
Stretching allows us to lengthen muscles that may have become tight from repetitive use. Some of the muscles that are most prone to tightening due to repetitive use or seated positions at work are the pectorals (chest), lats (back), hip flexors, and biceps femoris (lateral hamstring). By lengthening these muscles, you are able to prevent injury and pain because your body will remain in proper alignment during the day.
Another important benefit of stretching includes the ability to work with full range of motion. It can be hard to do something like raise your arm straight up when your pectorals and lats become too tight. This may lead to the inability to reach for something on a high shelf and can even lead to rotator cuff or shoulder and neck pain if it is not corrected. As we age, lack of mobility becomes an even larger issue with the loss of functional mobility, when it becomes harder to move, sit and stand.
Finally, as promised, let’s discuss how appropriate stretching affects strength.
When a muscle is constantly in a shortened position due to not stretching or overuse, it actually pulls the joint out of appropriate alignment. This causes a muscle imbalance, where one side of the joint is lengthened and the other side of the joint is shortened.
Neither the lengthened nor the shortened muscle can produce force optimally due to the structural changes inside the muscle caused by the muscle imbalance. This means the muscle is not able to contract as forcefully as it could if the muscle were the appropriate length. Hence, less strength overall.
Hopefully you can see the value in adding at least a few stretches to your current routine. As I said before, it doesn’t have to take very long. At the very least, be sure you stretch each muscle you exercised during your workout for 20-30 seconds and you’ll be off to a great start! Now all that’s left to do is get to it and stretch it out!
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