It’s common knowledge amongst athletes that, before and after any fitness routine or exercise, stretching is essential. What’s more, stretching should be an important part of your everyday life. But why is that?
Stretching is an essential part of the warming down and cooling down parts of your workout, yet in a rush to shorten down routine times, it can be rushed, improvised, and sometimes ignored altogether. A couple of arm stretches across the body simply isn’t enough. Furthermore, many athletes in training fail to incorporate a wide range of flexibility and stretch work into their exercise plans, which can diminish their results greatly.
Here, we’re going to explore what, exactly, the importance of stretching is. What’s the role it plays in training and how do you make sure you give it the time and attention that it needs?
The Importance of Flexibility
Flexible muscles are the key benefit of stretching. It helps keep them healthy and strong and ensures that you get the range of motion that you should. Fail to stretch and your muscles become tighter and shorter, which means that they’re not able to extend as much as they should when you try to get them to work.
Flexibility is an even more important part of injury prevention during training. You’re much more susceptible not only to joint pain but muscle damage that could keep you out of the gym and out of the game for long periods of time.
If you don’t maintain flexibility, trying to call on your tightened muscles when performing suddenly stretches them more than they’re used to. Injuring your muscles can also injure your joints if they’re not strong enough to support them. You need to stretch regularly to ensure your muscles are long and flexible and even to ensure better balance and posture.
Other Benefits of Stretching
Beyond your flexibility and range of motion, stretching is good for you for a range of other reasons. These include improved circulation, which helps better supply oxygen to muscles around the body, shortening recovery times after exercise. Stretching releases the tension in your muscles, helping relieve stress both after exercise and in daily life, too.
What Should You Stretch?
Many young athletes who haven’t learned the real importance of stretching may only work on a few “key areas” before and after workouts. However, you have a lot of muscles and there are several key areas that need to be addressed. Those most important include the calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, and the front of your thighs. A full daily stretch program should also target the shoulders, lower back, and your neck. Beyond warming up and cooling down, you should aim to stretch all these areas four times a week.
Proper Stretching Technique
Traditional knowledge says that stretching is part of the warm up for any workout routine but the truth is that it should actually be done after warming up. When your muscles are cold, not only can strenuous exercise hurt them but stretching can, as well. It’s important to warm up a little first with roughly ten minutes of light, non-impactful exercise, like walking, to get the blood flowing and make sure the muscle is ready for the stretch.
Stretching should be done before and after exercise, with every stretch being held for 30 seconds on each side. Bouncing during stretches can increase your risk of injury and, while you should feel a slight burning sensation during the stretch, it shouldn’t be physically painful. If you do feel any significant pain, stop stretching immediately. Make sure to relax and don’t hold your breath.
The Importance of Stretching in the Long-Term
It takes more than a single session of stretching to help lengthen your muscles and improve your flexibility. The tighter and shorter your muscles, the more important it is to repeat the practice several times a week. However, as the weeks go on, you can start to notice the benefits during exercise. Once your body is at peak flexibility, commitment to the plan is essential for maintaining that range of movement, as well.
At William Bradley Sports Performance, we offer sports performance training for athletes of all levels across all disciplines. Find out more about our services, schedule a session or get in touch to learn how to effectively take your game to the next level.