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The many benefits of stretching your body
Whether you’re a fitness guru or part-time gym member, any exercise you do takes a toll on your body. From running or lifting weights to doing group classes and even taking long walks or hikes – each activity puts pressure on your muscles and joints. And if you don’t prepare your body for the strain of exercise, you can set yourself up for injuries and other issues.
In the same way, if you don’t treat your body correctly after exercise, you can end up doing more harm than good and prevent yourself from further activity –which is not ideal, right? So now that we’ve established the remedy to our muscle woes, we speak to former NRL player and owner of Flow Athletic, Ben Lucas, as well as PTs Dylan Rivier and Pip Reed about the importance and benefits of stretching when working out.
Why should I stretch?
So, it turns out stretching does more than just prevent muscle strain. Ben reveals that stretching helps to improve posture, which is especially important for those of us with desk jobs. Bad posture can cause back pain, imbalances and it can even affect your breathing! Lucky for us, stretching helps to avoid all of these issues. #multitasking
Ben goes on to explain that stretching also “promotes good blood circulation, which helps your organs function properly, stabilises your blood pressure, promotes new cell growth and of course, it can speed up your recovery post-workout”. Enough to convince you to focus on stretching daily? Well, read on!
There are different types of stretching that should be done pre- and post-workout. We’ve all heard the term, ‘warming up’ and that’s exactly what stretching does to your muscles and joints. Dynamic stretching refers to exercises that move your muscles and joints through their natural range of movement and should be part of your pre-workout program. Dylan explains that this type of stretching “stretches muscles and tendons but also increases blood flow to the area and prepares the joints/muscles for exercise”. Want an example? Ben’s your guy - “So, if my plan is to work my shoulders and chest today, I would do some moving head tilts, shoulder rolls and arm swings to loosen up my chest muscles. I would ensure that I focus on anything that feels tight and any muscles that I want to work in the session.” In the same way, if you’re going for a run, it’s best to start with a light walk to get your muscles warmed up for the main event. Simple, right? And super effective for your body and workout. *Fist pumps*
Your post-workout stretches should be static. This refers to stretching a muscle, and holding that stretch position for 30-60 seconds. Post-workout static stretching helps your muscles recover from the strain of exercising. This process is known as ‘cooling down’. Dylan explains that stretching while the muscle is still warm will “help relieve any residual pain”.
Pip tells us that post-workout stretching for women can help achieve “long, lean muscles”, which she finds is a goal for many women when it comes to health and fitness.
If your exercise regimen involves a lot of resistance (weights) training, Ben says static stretching is especially important. “When you’re lifting weights, your muscles contract and as they cool down they can get tight and shortened. Stretching them after the session can help to prevent this.” It’s also great for…
You may have heard personal trainers (or those super buff guys in the weights room at your gym) refer to ‘DOMS’. This stands for ‘delayed onset muscle soreness’ and refers to the pain, tightness and general discomfort you can experience the day or two after exercising (particularly when using weights). Experiencing this pain can often deter people from continuing regular exercise (we’ve all been there!) but if you remember to stretch before and especially after exercising, your DOMS will be less intense, hopefully encouraging you to continue training. Watch out Victoria’s Secret, I’m coming for you!
How often should I stretch?
Ben, Dylan and Pip all agree that a warm up should be at least five to 10 minutes long. Post-workout static stretching should be about the same length of time, however if you can fit in a longer static stretching session, this is ideal for optimum recovery. Ben suggests having a “pre-organised stretching routine that you can do in front of the TV at night if you are too time-poor to do it at the gym”. He also explains that fitting in one or two yoga classes a week is a great way to ensure your body stays flexible, as yoga is essentially a whole hour of stretching!
Dylan’s advice is to, “Listen to your body. If you're feeling tight or sore in certain areas, then pay attention to them. Remember one of the main purposes of staying limber and flexible is to prevent injury and stretching, foam rolling or even a yoga class can make a world of difference.”
So, now that you know the benefits of stretching and how best to do it, make sure you add it to your regular routine. As Ben says, without stretching, “You just won’t be feeling as good as you could be! Stretching gets the blood circulating and helps energise your body. It really is one of the best things that you can do for yourself!”
Do you do dynamic and static stretching on a daily basis or as part of your workout routine? Which stretches do you find to be the most effective?