Stretching Primes Your Muscles for Exercise
If the first mile of every run feels like straight-up torture, you need to start warming up with dynamic stretches like leg swings, high knees, and bodyweight squats and lunges. A dynamic warm-up increases blood flow, moves the joint fluidly, and mimics the movements that will be completed during the workout, says Jacquelyn Brennan, CSCS, a personal trainer and co-founder of Mindfuel Wellness, a Chicago-based company that teaches on-site fitness classes and wellness workshops to boost employee health.
Stretching Improves Your Posture
Improving your posture comes down to more than willing yourself to sit up straight. Tight muscles are synonymous with weak muscles, which lead to postural compensations, Brennan says.
Stretching Eases Back Pain
Believe it or not, back pain may come from tight hamstrings, says certified clinical exercise physiologist Tara Romeo, CSCS, assistant director of the Professional Athletic Performance Center in New York. That's because tight hammies increase the stress on the muscles surrounding your spine and in your lower back. One Archives of Internal Medicine study found that following an intensive stretching routine for 12 weeks dramatically improves chronic lower-back pain and reduces the need for pain meds.
Stretching Improves Your Exercise Form
Tight muscles don't do anything good for your exercise form. After all, when your muscles start compensating for each other, proper biomechanics go out the window, Brennan says. By correcting muscular imbalances, static stretching helps you perform any exercise with better form, both improving your performance and preventing injury.
Stretching Prevents Injury
Performing dynamic stretching prior to exercise is important for preventing any of those something snapped! injuries that can occur when you work out with cold, tight muscles.
Stretching Boosts Your Joint Health
Stretching is about way more than your muscles, though. It also moves your joints through their full range of motion (remember those pre-run dynamic stretches we mentioned?), increasing the flexibility in your tendons, which connect your muscles to bones, so you're less likely to suffer from runner's knee or tennis elbow, Brennan says.
Stretching Slashes Stress
Stress reduces blood flow, resulting in muscle tension and knots. Meanwhile, stretching increases blood flow to your muscles to ease tension and help you feel more relaxed, Romero says. Plus, once your blood gets pumping to your muscles, it also reaches your brain, where it can effectively boost your mood, Brennan says.
Stretching Helps You Sleep Better
Whether you sleep for five hours or eight hours, staying in one position for a length of time may cause you to feel stiff, Romero says. Static stretching before going to bed will help relieve some tightness or cramping you may feel during the night. Bonus: By reducing stress, you'll have a better chance of actually falling asleep in the first place.
Stretching Can Help You Score That Promotion
Stretch breaks can turn you into a star employee. That's because stretching boosts blood flow to your brain, improves energy, and fights nagging anxieties, Brennan says. In one pilot program called Organizations in Motion, employees were encouraged to integrate some form of activity, such as stretching and walking, into their office routines every 30 minutes for several months. At the end of the program, 53 percent said they had increased their levels of at-home physical activity, while 42 percent reported greater engagement and concentration on the job.
Stretching Strengthens Your Muscles
Stretching can't replace your strength training routine, but it can help keep you strong. In one Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study, people who stretched their legs for 40 minutes a few times a week improved their one-rep max (the amount of weight they could lift at one time) by an average of 32 percent for knee extension (straightening) exercises and 15 percent for knee flexion (bending) exercises. They also improved their muscular endurance, vertical jump distance, and standing long-jump distance. Researchers believe static stretching works your muscles similarly to strength exercises, just on a smaller scale.
Stretching Improves Your Flexibility
The saying 'if you don't use it, you lose it' rings true. When we limit our body's mobility, we become less mobile, Brennan says. That's because, without stretching, not only do your muscles and connectives become tighter, but your neurological system thinks that they should stay that way or else you'll hurt yourself. A healthy dose of stretching, though, can make your muscles more flexible plus retrain your brain to let you move in ways you couldn't before.