What’s the first thing you do in the morning? (After hitting the snooze button, we mean.) If you’re like most people, you open your eyes, register your surroundings, and then lengthen your body into a long stretch. You reach your arms overhead, point your toes, briefly squeeze the muscles of your legs, back, and arms, and then release. Sometimes you might do a few spinal twists or even touch your toes before finally getting up for the day.
This isn’t usually a conscious behaviour – it’s instinctual. Animals do it, too, we’ve all seen our dogs and cats doing a big stretch after waking up or playing. We do this because stretching is essential to maintaining a healthy body, especially after you’ve exercised.
Today we’re going to explore why stretching is so important, and how it works to benefit your body.
Why Is Stretching Important?
Harvard Health explains how stretching works on our muscles, “Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.”
Many of our daily activities cause muscle tightness without our even realizing it. We sit all day long which shortens our hamstrings, our posture while looking at screens or phones is often less than ideal, and even the way we sleep can sometimes put our muscles under strain. Stretching regularly can counteract these effects, allowing muscles to lengthen and realign.
Why is Stretching Important After Exercise?
Stretching is even more important after a workout. Any sort of exercise can work to tax your muscles beyond what you’d do in a typical day. You lift heavier weights, run long distances, and perform dynamic movements, all of which put tension on your muscles. Even playing team sports or doing an activity like rock climbing puts stress on your muscles. Stretching after a workout allows you to release this tension, increase blood flow, and reduce the risk of injury or soreness.
Science for Sport explains that research demonstrates the effectiveness of stretching on soreness and flexibility, “static stretching can improve flexibility by altering the mechanical factors associated with tissue stiffness (passive fascicle length and angle). Static stretching, therefore, appears to improve flexibility”.
When Should You Stretch?
Many people believe that you should stretch both before and after a workout. Unfortunately, as UC Davis explains, stretching cold muscles can often lead to muscle tears or injury. Stretching is always best performed on warm muscles, so you can get the benefits of a full range of motion and flexibility.
Committing to the habit of stretching for 10 minutes after a workout means you’ll be supporting your body as it works to replenish and repair itself after vigorous activity. Put in the time now and you’ll avoid tons of lost time due to soreness or injury later. Happy stretching!