Why Stretching Is Crucial
Any good trainer will insist on warm ups and cool downs which involve light stretches before beginning or at the conclusion of a workout. But many times, for the lack of time or because we feel its not important now that the hard work is done, we tend to skip the all important stretches. So really how important is stretching to your workout and to your body? What happens to your body if you don’t stretch? Read on.
In a perfect world, you would stretch after warming up, between each set of exercises and after you finished your workout. You can never stretch too much. Flexibility is fully one third of a balanced physical fitness program (you already know the other two - cardio and strength training). Unfortunately, very few people devote more than a few quick minutes to stretching their muscles. A lot skip it altogether, claiming that they don't have the time. They're doing their bodies a serious disservice. Exercisers who don't stretch are putting themselves at risk for injury, limiting their muscles' range of motion and encouraging muscle aches and stiffness.
Here are some benefits of stretching regularly:
- It makes muscles longer and leaner. This gives them better range of motion and better flexibility. And unless you're a serious body builder, you probably prefer the look of leaner muscles to bulky ones, too.
- Your muscles won't feel as sore after a hard workout.
- It improves circulation.
- It reduces stress and muscle tension.
- It reduces your risk of injury.
- And let's not forget: It feels wonderful!
Because of time constraints, often it's nearly impossible to devote much stretching time to a workout. If that's the case with you, then forego the pre-workout stretch in favor of stretching after your workout. You should always stretch muscles after they have been exercised. In addition, muscles are best stretched when they're warm. Devote ten minutes or more to stretching at the end of an exercise session and make sure you hit every muscle group that was worked (and if you have some muscles that are still sore from yesterday's workout, you may want to gently stretch them, too).
The older you get, the more crucial it becomes for you to stretch. But those of you in your 20s should keep this in mind: if you stretch a lot now, you will be in far better shape in a couple of decades. Consider stretching an investment in your future health, just as college was an investment in your future career. Many professional dancers stay active for a lifetime, and much of this is due to all the stretching they are required to do.
Your workout shouldn't be the only time you stretch, either - you should stretch occasionally throughout the day, especially when you've been sitting or standing for long periods of time. And if you can devote one hour a week to nothing but stretching and flexibility, your body will reward you with more fluid, mobile movements and less morning stiffness later on.
*Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
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