The Benefits of Stretching Both Before and After Your Workout
The Benefits of Stretching, According to Fitness Experts
You know working out can do wonders for your mind and body, so you make sure to squeeze in that spin class on Tuesday and fit in a yoga flow on Friday. But stretching before and after? Given your busy schedule, that can be easy to skip...but it's time to stop. Here's why: The right stretches have the power to remake your workout, your health, and your life. Think that's exaggerating? Think again. Read on to learn the super-awesome benefits of stretching so you can finally prioritize your mobility. (Related: The Best Ways to Stretch Before and After a Workout)
Primes Your Muscles for Exercise
If the first mile of every run feels like straight-up torture, you need to start warming up with dynamic stretches like leg swings, high knees, and bodyweight squats and lunges. "A dynamic warm-up increases blood flow, moves the joint fluidly, and mimics the movements that will be completed during the workout," says Jacquelyn Brennan, C.S.C.S., a personal trainer and co-founder of Mindfuel Wellness, a Chicago-based company that teaches on-site fitness classes and wellness workshops to boost employee health. (To maximize these benefits of stretching, check out this performance-boosting dynamic warm-up.)
Improving your posture comes down to more than willing yourself to sit up straight. "Tight muscles are synonymous with weak muscles, which lead to postural compensations," says Brennan. Be sure to stretch your core, neck, and shoulders daily, and try these strength training exercises for better posture.
Eases Back Pain
"Believe it or not, back pain may come from tight hamstrings," says certified clinical exercise physiologist Tara Romeo, C.S.C.S., assistant director of the Professional Athletic Performance Center in New York. That's because tight hammies increase the stress on the muscles surrounding your spine and in your lower back. Good news: one of the many benefits of stretching is being able to say peace out to pain. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that following an intensive stretching routine for 12 weeks dramatically improves chronic lower-back pain and reduces the need for pain meds.
Improves Exercise Form
Tight muscles don't do anything good for your exercise form. After all, when your muscles start compensating for each other, proper biomechanics go out the window, says Brennan. By correcting muscular imbalances, static stretching can help you perform any exercise with better form, both improving your performance and preventing injury (more on that next).
One of the many benefits of stretching is the decreased risk of injuries. Performing dynamic stretching in particular prior to exercise is important for preventing any of those "something snapped!" injuries that can occur when you work out with cold, tight muscles. (BTW, here’s how to break the pain cycle of persistent injuries.)
Boosts Joint Health
The benefits of stretching go far beyond your muscles, though. It also moves your joints through their full range of motion, increasing the flexibility in your tendons, which connect your muscles to bones, so you're less likely to suffer from runner's knee or tennis elbow, Brennan explains. (Related: Common Bone and Joint Problems for Active Women)
Stress reduces blood flow, resulting in muscle tension and knots. Meanwhile, stretching increases blood flow to your muscles to ease tension and help you feel more relaxed, says Romero. Plus, once your blood gets pumping to your muscles, it also reaches your brain, where it can effectively boost your mood, says Brennan. Point being: even your brain can reap the benefits of stretching. (Psst...for even more good vibes, check out these uplifting yoga poses that prove the many benefits of stretching.)
Helps You Sleep Better
"Whether you sleep for five hours or eight hours, staying in one position for a length of time may cause you to feel stiff," says Romero. "Static stretching before going to bed will help relieve some tightness or cramping you may feel during the night." More benefits of stretching for sleep: By reducing stress, you'll have a better chance of actually falling asleep in the first place. (Want to up your odds of catching zzz's? Try these 10 poses to chill out before you snooze.)
Improves Performance at Work
Stretch breaks can turn you into a star employee. That's because stretching boosts blood flow to your brain, improves energy, and fights nagging anxieties, says Brennan. In one pilot program called Organizations in Motion, employees were encouraged to integrate some form of activity, such as stretching and walking, into their office routines every 30 minutes for several months. At the end of the program proving one of the many benefits of stretching, 53 percent said they had increased their levels of at-home physical activity, while 42 percent reported greater engagement and concentration on the job. (Still not sold on these benefits of stretching? Check out the other reasons why stretching at work is so important.)
Stretching can't replace your strength training routine, but it can help keep you strong. In a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, people who stretched their legs for 40 minutes a few times a week improved their one-rep max (the amount of weight they could lift at one time) by an average of 32 percent for knee extension (straightening) exercises and 15 percent for knee flexion (bending) exercises. They also improved their muscular endurance, vertical jump distance, and standing long-jump distance. Researchers believe static stretching works your muscles similarly to strength exercises, just on a smaller scale. (Related: The Best Functional Workout to Improve Your Immune System)
"The saying 'if you don't use it, you lose it' rings true. When we limit our body's mobility, we become less mobile," says Brennan. That's because without stretching, not only do your muscles and connectives become tighter, but your neurological system thinks that they should stay that way or else you'll hurt yourself. A healthy dose of stretching, though, can make your muscles more flexible plus retrain your brain to let you move in ways you couldn't before. (Up Next: 6 Post-Workout Stretches to Do After Every Single Sweat Sesh)