Stretching is a lengthening of your muscles that improves your flexibility, joint range of motion, balance, and stability. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching at least two to three times per week. Depending on your fitness routine, you may be an avid stretcher or only touch your toes when you’re feeling sore after a workout. But stretching is something that people at every fitness level and frequency should incorporate into their daily or weekly routine. Along with increased flexibility and range of motion, stretching improves circulation, helps with posture, can be stress relieving, and helps prevent injuries.
How to Stretch
When stretching, aim to incorporate each major muscle area (neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen, back, hips, legs, and ankles) in a stretch for 30-60 seconds. Don’t force the stretch or use leverage or pulling to deepen the stretch past where your joints can comfortably go — this is especially important if you are hypermobile or have joint problems or pain. If you feel any pain while stretching, back out of the stretch or switch to a different stretch for those muscle groups. And most importantly, remember to breathe!
Don’t Stretch Before Warming Up
While stretching before you start your workout can feel like a good way to warm up your muscles, it can actually do more harm than good. Stretching cold can lead to injuries or strains as you pull on muscles that may be stiff or cold from inactivity. Instead, include a short 5-10 minute cardio warm up to get your muscles going. Good warm up activities include jumping jacks, a brisk walk, jump rope, jogging, biking, or any other cardio activity that gets your muscles moving at a gentle pace. Once your blood is flowing to your muscles, you can safely stretch.
Stretch During Cooldown
No matter what type of exercise you do, whether it’s weight lifting or cardio, stretching after you complete your workout is an important tool in your injury-free fitness routine. Stretching improves circulation to your muscles, which allows fresh blood to provide oxygen and remove waste from tired and swollen muscles. Stretching post-workout lessens your likelihood of suffering soreness from stiff muscles and joints along with preventing workout injuries or sprains.
A regular fitness routine helps you build a strong, happy, and healthy body. Stretching is one of many components of working out that helps you create a balanced fitness lifestyle, alongside using good form, diversifying your workouts, drinking plenty of water, eating a healthy diet, and taking regular rest days.
Depending on your workout routine (looking at you, yogis), you may already be doing enough stretching and benefit more from strength-building exercises. Or maybe you’re a heavy-lifter who could spend some more time reaching for your toes. Take stock of your workouts regularly to ensure that you’re supporting your whole body and not over- or under-working any major muscle groups. For more tips and tricks to build your fitness lifestyle, check out our other blogs!