There are many benefits to regular stretching, and they're not all based on flexibility and touching your toes. Not only can stretching help increase your flexibility, which is an important factor of any fitness routine, but it can also improve your posture, improve your performance in physical activities, reduce body aches while allowing the body to move freely with no pain, discomfort or impingements, stretching also helps to heal and prevent back pain (and knee pain, and shoulder pain, and neck pain... I could go on and on).
Stretching has many physical benefits but also stretching is wonderful for mental health, stress relief and reduction, productivity, calming of the mind and also controlling emotions.
Not all stretching is created equal, and over the past decade there has been extensive research into stretching, the different types of stretching, when it's most beneficial to do each type of stretching to get the best possible results and recovery. These discoveries have changed the concept of stretching and really high lighted the importance of a diverse stretching routine.
There are several types of stretching techniques, including dynamic, static (Yin Yoga), passive, PNF stretching and active stretching. The most common forms of stretches are static and dynamic stretches, which we will outline below along with PNF.
STATIC STRETCHES involve holding a stretch in a comfortable position for a period of time, typically between 10 and 30 seconds. This form of stretching is most beneficial after you exercise. This type of stretching flows into the concept of Yin Yoga, where poses are held for a minimum of 3 minutes. That is the time it takes for the fascia (soft connective tissue that covers the entire body, kind of like a full body stocking, fascial lines can run from the big toe to the crown of the head) to melt away, and really get down deeper into the stretches and allow the body to soften and find flexibility naturally without force.
DYNAMIC STRETCHES are active movements that cause your muscles to stretch, but the stretch is not held in the end position. These stretches are usually done before exercise to get your muscles ready for movement for example: high knees, butt kicks, leg swings all warm up the hips and increase mobility around the joints. Flow Yoga is also a type of dynamic stretching.
PNF ( proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation ) STRETCHES are said to use receptors to improve the neuromuscular (related to nerves and muscles) response of the body. For example, to perform a hamstring PNF stretch, stretch until you feel a slight discomfort, contract the hamstring isometrically (without moving) for 3-5 secs, relax the muscle and slowly deepen the stretch using your quadriceps (opposing muscle). Repeat the cycle 3-4 times. PNF stretching is the fastest way known to improve the range of motion or flexibility.
More on the benefits of stretching
Regular stretching can help increase your flexibility, which is crucial for your overall health. Not only can improved flexibility help you to perform everyday activities with relative ease, but it can also help delay the reduced mobility that can come along with ageing.
Stretching can help to improve your range of motion and increased range of motion means more freedom in your movements as you are able to move a joint through its full range.
Stretching helps to improve Posture. Muscle imbalances and tightness are common especially in people who work desk jobs and can lead to poor posture. A combination of strengthening (such as Pilates) and stretching specific muscle groups can reduce musculoskeletal pain and encourage proper alignment, which in turn will help to improve posture. (This also helps to minimise risk of injury due to poor alignment).
And who would have thought that stretching could improve your mental health? When you're experiencing stress, your muscles are tense and tight. That's because your muscles tend to tighten up in response to physical and emotional stress. Focus on stretching areas of your body where you tend to hold onto stress such as your neck, your upper back and your shoulders. Stretching will help to calm your nervous system which triggers a physical response to "let go and relax".
Performing stretches on a regular basis will also help to improve your circulation which increases blood flow to your muscles. This can help to shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness after exercise.
Overall, stretching has so many benefits for both the mind and body and can be done basically anywhere with little to no equipment. If you're new to a regular stretching routine, take it slow and give your body time to get used to the stretches that you are performing. You also want to make sure you are performing the stretches with proper form and technique to avoid getting injured.
On days you exercise aim for 5-10 mins of dynamic stretching prior to your activity (hip warm ups on the barre before class make your class much more enjoyable!) and then do another 5-10 mins of static or PNF stretching after your class.
On days that you aren't exercising, still plan to schedule at least 5-10 mins of time for stretching, I suggest before bed. This helps to improved flexibility, reduce muscle tightness and pain, and also slow down the mind and prepare you for a restful sleep.
Join Cat on Wednesday evenings at Fleur Wellbeing studio at 6:30pm for our dedicated "Simply Stretch" class which focuses on stretching your entire body from head to toe. A great addition to your workout routine and perfect for mid week. Please ensure to book ahead of time through our Mindbody booking system as places are limited. And the guys can join this class for only $10 cash on the night! So ladies, bring your hubbies, brothers and guy mates!
Cat is a trained stretch therapist, and has a world of knowledge on all things stretching, to find out more about Cat, visit our "About Us" page and "Meet our Instructors".
Written by Cat Magin.