Stretching is an essential part of any exercise routine as it can be very beneficial to your body and overall health. Many people tend to forget to incorporate stretching, think there is no purpose for it, or they don’t know how to stretch altogether. Stretching helps to keep your muscles healthy and flexible, which helps prevent future injury. Without stretching, your muscles tend to shorten and tighten up. This can potentially limit your range of motion during exercise, which can be harmful and stressful to your body.
There are two types of stretching: dynamic stretching and static stretching. Here, we will be focusing on the latter, why it is good for your body, and some examples to get you started.
What Is Static Stretching?
Stretching is a type of exercise where you are able to focus on a muscle to extend and release any tension that might be built up in that region. Static stretching is doing just that while staying in a standing, sitting, or lying position during the whole duration. This is typically done after your workout to help alleviate any tightness that may have built up during your workout. This is in contrast to dynamic stretching, where the movement of your body helps to warm your muscles up before your workout.
By remaining in a stationary position while stretching, it enables you to focus on stretching out that one area specifically. As your whole attention is set on that, you are able to gradually move that muscle to the end of its range of motion. The more consistent you are with this, the more you will be able to increase that range of motion, increasing your flexibility.
Where Do I Start?
To start, select a muscle group you want to focus on. Usually, it will be the area you feel the most tension or the area that you had just worked out. Slowly move into that stretching position until you reach a point where you feel slight tension or resistance. Then, stay in that position for about 20 to 30 seconds. During this time, you should be able to feel that initial tension or resistance to gradually decrease.
Be careful not to push your muscles too hard during this exercise. Slowly moving into the desired position is key, as you never want to jolt your muscles into a position too fast. You never want to go past the point where you start feeling piercing pain or extreme discomfort.
It is also important to remember to keep breathing during your stretching exercises. Breathing keeps the oxygen in your blood from moving. While your muscles need oxygen during your workout, it also needs oxygen during stretching. Holding your breath or decreasing your oxygen flow results in a buildup of lactic acid in your body. Lactic acid is the main culprit for causing soreness, muscle pain, and skeletal fatigue. Therefore, try to focus not only on the muscles you are stretching out but also on your breathing. Exhaling can even allow you to sink a little deeper into your stretch, releasing more of that built-up tension.
Benefits of Static Stretching
There’s more to the story on stretching than just increasing your flexibility. Stretching is not just for gymnasts or runners. Static stretching is beneficial to all who participate in any type of physical activity. Incorporate static stretching at the end of your workout to obtain these important benefits:
Flexibility enhances your muscles’ range of motion. So why is that important? Increasing your muscles' range of motion can help make your workout more effective. By broadening your muscles ability to work, you have more area to work with. You can imagine that with a shorter span and stiffer muscles, your body is not able to move as freely, which can limit your workouts.
Prevention of Injury
This benefit of static stretching works hand-in-hand with improving your flexibility. The more flexible you are, the more area you can work with without causing injury to your muscles. It also helps to improve the elongation of your muscles’ ability, helping it to return back to its normal functional length after a workout. Without stretching, your muscles can stay contracted, stiff, and tense for quite some time after your workout.
This is particularly important when it comes to static stretching after your workout. During exercise, you are constantly working your body and muscles to provide enough energy. Your muscles are also constantly operating and contracting to allow your body to move in certain ways. Giving your body time to stretch out the kinks after your workout can help prevent injury by letting your muscles relax, otherwise leaving your muscles to remain constricted after exercise.
Increase Blood Flow
Stretching allows your blood to flow more continuously to the areas that need it the most. Increasing blood flow to those particular muscles allows them to receive more oxygen supply, which can help in their recovery. Without oxygen, your muscles can build up unwanted metabolites, such as lactic acid. Too much lactic acid can cause muscle pain and muscle cramps.
Increasing blood flow to your muscles helps deliver not only oxygen but other nutrients and metabolites as well. This is important to help your muscles recover in a more comfortable and timely fashion after exercise. As your body utilizes a variety of sources to ensure a sufficient amount of energy during your workout, it is important to replenish your body afterward for proper recovery.
Examples Of Static Stretching
There are many different ways to apply static stretching after your workout routine. In fact, there is one for every muscle group. Although you should definitely focus on areas that received the most stress during your workout, it is beneficial to incorporate stretching to your whole body. Here are a couple of examples of how to stretch certain areas of your body after your workout. Remember, the following stretching exercises should be performed while in a stationary position, hold for around 20 to 30 seconds and repeat as needed.
While in a sitting or standing position, place your arm over your head to reach the right (or left) side of your head. Slowly and gently, pull your head to the opposite side, extending the muscles involved in your neck. This can help stretch out the superior part of the trapezius muscles, the platysma muscles, and the sternocleidomastoid muscles.
Stand up straight with an elevated stool or platform in front of you, preferably no higher than at knee level. Place one of your legs on the elevated surface, keeping it straight with your knees gently locked. Slowly, start leaning your hips forward until you feel slight resistance on the back of the thigh that is propped up. Try to keep your back from hunching over as you lean forward.
Start by standing up straight with both feet on the ground and knees slightly bent. Slowly grab your ankle with the same side hand and bring it closer up towards your glutes. It is important to engage your core during this stretch to help you keep balance and to help keep a nice posture. If you are finding it hard to balance, consider using your other arm to lightly use a wall for support.
Stand upright with your back straight, feet placed firmly on the ground, and arms by your side. Engage your hands and fingers behind your back at the level of buttocks. Slowly start pushing your arms upwards behind your back, keeping your shoulder blades together and your back upright. You will start to feel a nice stretch across your chest.
Either start by sitting up straight or by standing firmly on the ground, relaxing your shoulders. Bring one arm out in front of you around shoulder level, keeping it straight throughout the exercise. With your other hand, grab the extended arm either just above the elbow or on the forearm and pull that extended arm closer to your chest. You should be able to feel a stretch near the back of your shoulders.
In conclusion, exercise is not all about losing weight and looking fit. Stretching is an essential part of your exercise routine to help keep your muscles relaxed and healthy. It should be given the same amount of attention as the importance of cardiovascular and strength training. Incorporating static stretching after any type of physical activity can help aid in faster recovery and better performance. Improving your flexibility, mobility, and strength is always a good thing when it comes to performance. Whether you are utilizing the StreetStrider for a full-body workout or at the gym lifting weights, try setting aside some time for a post-workout stretch and see first hand how your body and muscles will thank you.