Maybe you are like us at the start of a new year…super gung-ho to head to the gym and start working out. After all, you’ve got big goals for taking your fitness to the next level in 2020! Here’s the thing. More often than not, we get so pumped about starting our workout that we completely neglect stretching out our bodies. Or maybe we are in a hurry and think we don’t have time to spend five minutes warming up. Believe it or not, stretching is an important component to helping us achieve our health and fitness goals.
It is common knowledge that stretching our muscles can aid in increasing flexibility. This is important because not only will flexibility help you get through basic every day activities (lifting the kids, reaching for that notebook on the top shelf at the office, getting on those tight but super cute stilettos), it can help to improve your posture. Have you ever noticed that your back was aching only to find that you were sitting in a slumped-over position? Stretching can help your body loosen up and train it to sit up in a proper position. In fact, muscle imbalances are extremely common and often responsible for us having poor posture. One study actually found that a combination of strengthening and stretching the muscles of certain groups can reduce musculoskeletal pain and encourage proper alignment.
Another benefit of stretching is that it can help to calm your mind and relieve stress. Whenever we are going through a stressful time, our bodies have a tendency to tense up. When this happens, we are more likely to experience things like a decrease in our energy levels which can lead to feeling burnt out. We can also have difficulty concentrating and in being productive. Stretching helps our bodies loosen-up, especially if we focus on stretching areas of our bodies that are the tensest (neck, shoulder and upper back). Stretching can also be a wonderful way to focus on being mindful. Use your stretching exercises as a way to take a break from the world! Turn it in to a form of meditation where you shut your mind off and give yourself a mental break.
So, what types of stretches should you do? One of the easiest ways to loosen up is to perform what is called static stretches. This consists of holding a particular type of stretch (in a comfortable position) for a period of time. People typically hold these stretches anywhere from 10 to 25 seconds. This type of static stretching is the most beneficial for when you have just completed a workout. It’s also great if you need to stand up and take a break from sitting at your desk. Focus on stretching out your back, shoulders, neck and spine.
Dynamic stretches are a bit more active yet equally beneficial. These types of stretches are typically done before a workout as a way to help get your muscles ready to move. Set a goal for yourself to stretch at least five to 10 minutes before you start exercising. Even if you aren’t planning on working out (or you just aren’t feeling motivated to head to the gym), dynamic stretches are a great way to help get your body moving and the blood flowing.
As you can see, stretching can be extremely beneficial to the mind and body. The key is to always stretch in a safe and effective manner. If you have an acute or existing injury, it’s important to talk with your local health care practitioner to ensure your stretching routine is going to be right for you. It’s also important not to overdo it. Just like working out, stretching can put stress on your body, especially if you are doing too much. Try stretching out different parts of your body each day to help prevent injury. Just like everything in life, being mindful of your stretching routine is the key to success!