After a hard weighted workout or a gruelling 10K run, stretching is usually the last thing you want to do. But while you may feel you’ve done enough, stretching is a crucial part of your workout which in time can enhance your performance in any given sport or fitness pursuit.
Taking a few extra minutes to stretch can lead to many benefits for your general fitness, your emotional well-being and your long-term health...
1. Decrease the risk of injuries
After a hard workout the muscles exercised will tighten and over time this can lead to hypertrophy, a condition whereby strong muscles tighten and the muscles opposite to them lengthen creating an imbalance in the body. This can make balance difficult and falls more likely. The body’s ability to cope with all manner of sport-related and every day stresses is negatively impacted and often injury can result.
2. Reduce soreness after workouts
During exercise muscles can build up a store of lactic acid, a chemical produced to aid the breakdown of blood sugars when the aerobic system is unable to supply enough energy. After exercise you can experience a ‘lactic burn’ and when you stretch you help dispense with the build-up and its uncomfortable effects.
3. Improve range of motion of the joints
Continued stretching initially helps maintain and eventually improves the range of motion of all your joints. A warm body stretches more easily than a cold one so a stretch after exercise is the ideal time to work on your mobility. Fully mobile joints enhance posture which aids stability and also make you move more efficiently and effectively in future workouts.
4. Increase blood circulation
Stretching helps increase blood flow to the muscles and so supplies them with the oxygen and nutrients they need to perform and recover more rapidly from the strain of exercise and injury. Overall this makes your energy system more efficient and can, therefore, revitalise you after a heavy exercise session and bring your energy levels back up relatively quickly.
5. Relieve stress and calm you down
Stopping to stretch calms and focuses the mind, and if you lie down to stretch you’re even more relaxed. As the heart rate recovers after exercise, take the time to have a good stretch, realign the body, reflect on all you’ve achieved and enjoy a simple sense of mindful well-being. Stretching is the perfect complement to a hard workout, taking you from the extreme of mental determination during exercise to considered contemplation afterwards.
If you don't really know how to get started, here are some stretches that you can incorporate into your routine.
For the best results you should hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat it 2 or 3 times with a 5 second break in-between. Less time and you won’t lengthen the muscle fibres and tissue which tighten during your workout. Remember to stretch muscles only to the point where you feel tension and then stay in this position. If you push too far it can result in injury.