Stretching is often something we overlook when it comes to our weekly exercise routine. This could be for lots of reasons; we run out of time, it’s boring or we don’t really understand the point of it. I get it! But I’m going to try to at least eliminate one of those reasons for you today and talk you through the benefits of stretching and how it can be a great addition to your weekly program.
When Should We Stretch?
In an ideal world, we should all be spending 10 minutes each day stretching to really feel the benefits long term, however 3-4 times per week is probably more realistic for most people. Stretching before a workout isn’t really the best time (a very common misconception!), as our muscles haven’t been warmed up which can mean that there is a higher risk of injury when performing stretches. So really you want to be adding them on to the end of your workouts or even after a walk to ensure your muscles are warm and ready to be stretched.
If you include stretching as a part of your programming (or ask your trainer to), this will help you to make time for it during your week, as it’s already a part of your allocated time for working out. Pick 4-5 stretches (3 lower, 2 upper tends to be a good split) that you can hold for about 30 seconds each (per side if doing unilateral) and this should be enough. Remember, only hold a stretch to the point where you can feel a good amount of tension, if it starts to hurt, pull it back – stretching should never be painful!
Types of Stretching
- Static – holding a stretch in a set position for a period of time
- Dynamic – active movements to stretch your body, but not holding a set position
- PNF – “Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation” relies on our reflexes to allow for a deeper stretch, using a “hold-relax-contract” technique.
- Passive – using an external force such as a band or a partner to stretch
- Active – holding a position and using only the muscles in that body part to hold you there (these are often used in yoga)
- Improves flexibility and range of motion, which will improve overall health of muscles and joints, allowing you to perform everyday activities as well as exercise with greater ease. This will also assist with ageing, as our muscles will be stronger and able to continue with normal activities for longer.
- Aids recovery after workouts. Stretching at the end of a workout is great way to improve recovery time, by getting the blood flowing to your muscles and reducing DOMS (muscle soreness).
- Improves posture. Weak or tight muscles can often lead to poor posture, so by stretching regularly we can strengthen and lengthen our muscles, which in turn will lead to better posture and less aches and pains.
- Stress relief. Stretching can be a fantastic way to combat stress and practice mindfulness or meditation on a regular basis. Try focussing on your breathing and clearing your mind whilst following your stretching routine, and you will feel the benefits in both your body and your mind!