While the jury is still out on whether stretching will help your body perform better during exercise and sports, taking in a few stretches on a daily basis, especially after exercise, is a great way to increase flexibility and start moving better.
What does stretching do?
Experts continue to discuss the impact that stretching has on athletic performance, injury prevention and curbing muscle soreness. While more research is needed in these areas, if you’re looking to maintain overall health, it’s clear that regular stretching has benefits. Stretching improves flexibility, and flexibility improves the range of motion in your joints. An optimised range of motion allows muscles to move as effectively as possible. In short, free-moving joints and superior muscle power will help you move better, whether you’re exercising or just enjoying a busy and active life.
When is the best time to stretch?
You can stretch at any time. It does not have to come before or after a workout – the important thing is that you do it. There is evidence that before some forms of exercise, such as sprinting, static stretching (where you stretch a muscle to its full ability and hold it), actually impedes performance; the theory is that the muscles are fatigued from holding the stretch. A good alternative is to warm-up doing dynamic stretches, which mimic your normal exercise routine, only less intensely. If you’re going for a run, for example, start slowly with brisk walking, leg swings, butt kicks (literally, kicking your butt with your heel as your jog) and walking lunges. Stretching after you exercise can have great benefits, as your muscles and joints are warm and supple.
What should I be aiming for?
Don’t expect your stretching routine to turn you into a spaghetti-limbed acrobat, because it’s just not going to happen. A good measure of your progress is to look for a similar degree of flexibility on both sides of your body. Most of us favour one side or the other, making one half of our bodies more lithe and agile. If you’re stretching regularly, you should see some slow and steady improvement across your body to the point that both sides are feeling loose and flexible.
How should I plan a stretch routine?
If you have any existing health conditions or injuries, speak to a medical professional about whether or not stretching is suitable for you. If you’re in good health, a stretching routine doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Stretch each muscle group, on both sides Work your way through your calves, thighs, hips and back, your arms, your shoulders and your neck. What you do to the muscles on one side of your body, you should also do to the muscles on the other side of your body.
- Pull, but no pain You should feel some tension in your muscle while you stretch, but you should not reach the point of pain. If you do start to feel an ache, ease off your stretch to a point where the ache recedes and hold there for 30 seconds.
- Make it regular Around ten minutes of gentle stretching every day is great for your body, but if you can’t manage that, aim for a regular routine of at least two stretching sessions a week. If you do it any less, or if your stretching schedule is erratic, you will miss out on the compounding improvements in your flexibility.