Have you ever been tempted to skip stretching before your daily work-out? You’re not the only one. We’re all busy these days, and sometimes just finding the time to commit to health-boosting exercises in the morning is hard enough, without setting aside an extra five minutes for stretching. Besides, running leads to a leaner body, lifting weights builds muscle. You can’t see the physical benefits from stretching, making it an oh-so-tempting step to skip.
But while it might seem like an added bonus, warming up is actually fundamental to the health of your muscles, as well as the quality of your workout. In fact, some experts believe that stretching is just as essential as exercise itself. Let’s take a look at why.
Why is stretching so important?
The simplest advantage that stretches before exercise offer is that they prepare your muscles for exercise by increasing the blood flow to the relevant muscles, simultaneously warming them up and lengthening them out. If they’re prepared, they’re more pliable and so you’re much less likely to get a cramp or suffer an injury while you’re working out. This is true in both a short and long-term sense.
Cooling down afterwards is just as important – some exercises, like weight training, can leave muscles contracted and feeling tight. Stretching them out not only releases tension but helps them to recover. Additionally, stretching can aid flexibility as it improves the range of motion your muscles can achieve. It’s likely you’ll relax and zone out as you stretch, meaning this practice has benefits for the brain, too.
Some easy stretches that can be done anywhere
Try out these simple stretches next time you exercise. They’re quick and straightforward so can be done anywhere, from the office to your backyard.
- Hamstrings: sit on an even surface with both legs straight out in front of you. Trying not to round the back too much, hinge forwards from the hips and attempt to touch the toes. If you can’t, it’s not a problem – don’t strain or bounce backwards and forwards. Just lean forwards as far as you can and hold the position for 20 seconds. You should feel the burn in the back of your legs!
- Lower back: this one is great for office workers whose back muscles are used to staying in the same position all day. Sit on the floor, as tall as you can, legs out in front of you. Slowly turn your whole ribcage to the left, lifting upwards and around, twisting as much as you can. Repeat on the other side.
- Hips and quads: Kneel down so that both knees are bent and your skins are parallel touching the floor. Bring one leg forwards in front of you, place both hands on that knee, and gently push your hips forward into the stretch. Keep your chest facing forwards, and try to hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
What happens when you don’t stretch?
Nothing dramatic will happen the first time you don’t stretch. Or the second. But if skipping your stretches becomes a habit, it’s likely that you’ll start to experience niggling pains that don’t go away. These aches and pains can result from tight muscles, which are not as effective at coping with stress and exertion as stretched ones are, and if you’re not careful, serious injuries can arise as a result.
How long should my stretches be?
Stretching doesn’t need to be complicated, and a routine can be added into your regular warm-up. You should ideally hold each repetition of your stretch for 8-10 seconds, and try each stretch 2-3 times. A period of 10-15 minutes is ideal to stretch out your body and warm up before exercise. We think you’ll soon start noticing – and appreciating – the difference!