As an avid runner who is now trying to hit the gym even more, I am feeling the effects of tight muscles. Especially as I get older (yes, I hit the big 4-0 this year), I am realizing the importance of stretching both before and after a workout. Of course, we all feel the value of stretching on our body, but what are the real benefits of stretching? And when is the best time to stretch?
The Benefits of Stretching
Stretching helps with athletic performance, minimizes the potential for injury and limits muscle soreness.
- Improved Range of Movement – Stretching increases the length of muscles causing a reduction in muscle tension and increasing the normal range of movement. This increased range of movement helps to minimize potential damage to the muscles and tendons, an increased ability to move freely and increased comfort.
- Increased Power – The myth that stretching causes a loss of joint stability and power couldn’t be further from the truth. The increase in muscle length achieved by stretching leads to greater muscular power as well as an improvement in dynamic balance.
- Reduced Muscle Soreness – Can we say #legday? If you ever done squats and lunges as a part of your workout, and barely been able to sit down the next day, you know the effects of muscle soreness. Soreness is a result of micro tears in the muscle, blood pooling and and accumulation of lactic acid in the muscle. If you stretch properly after a workout, the muscle fibers are lengthened, blood circulates better and that lactic acid can be removed. Stretching can quickly help with limiting muscle soreness.
- Reduced Fatigue – The increased flexibility that is garnered through stretching helps prevent the effects of fatigue. By stretching the antagonist muscles (the opposing muscle of the one that is being worked), it helps the working muscle require less effort to work.
Before or After – When do you Stretch?
Should you stretch before or after exercise? What is best? Stretching before and after exercise are essential, and in fact, they serve different purposes and have different benefits. Stretching before exercise is helps to prevent injury. At this time, stretching helps to lengthen muscles and tendons, which increases range of movement. That range of movement is what helps to prevent injury. Stretching after exercise helps in the repair and recovery of muscles and tendons. It helps to prevent tight muscles and delays muscle soreness. Finally the stretching that occurs after exercise helps the body to cool down and helps rid the body of waste products like lactic acid, and return the body to it’s pre-exercise state.
What are some of the best stretches for your muscles? Stay tuned! We will highlight the best stretches for various parts of the body in future blogs. Please let us know what you want to hear about first…stretches for the low back, stretches for runners, stretches for leg day?
References: Walker, Brad, The Anatomy of Stretching, pp. 19-20, 26.