What’s the most common thing people don’t do in the gym?? Stretching. I think we can all agree that we don’t stretch nearly as much as we should. It’s hard enough just getting to the gym for most people never mind spending an extra 15 to 20 minutes for stretching before and after your workout. But why is it so important to stretch? Is it really that beneficial to our bodies?
YES! It definitely is. In fact, it can increase your athletic performance, increase your flexibility and helps to prevent injuries. The reason increased flexibility improves your athletic ability is because it mobilizes joints. Think about it- with better joint movement and better range of motion you will open the door to a number of exercises that you were unable to do before. When you aren’t flexible well then it can be challenging to do exercises, you have limited mobility and a limited range of motion. For example, you may have a lot of tension in your traps/shoulder area as most do. This means that the muscle is at a continuing shortening state and there is no release for the muscle. The tense state causes constant pulling of the muscle; this could lead to injuries with your rotator cuff. If you muscle is tight around your traps it causes the muscle around your shoulder to pulled (toward your traps) in turn causing instability in the shoulder area. Someone with this problem is going to have difficulties performing exercises that involve the shoulder joint, exercises such as a military press.
Stretching also increases blood flow to the area; so the more you stretch the more efficient your body is at delivering blood to tissues and muscles. Ever stretch when you are really sore? Do you feel a nice release? Do you end up being not as sore? All of these physiological changes are because there is a release in the muscle, the myofascial release has occurred. The fascia (tissue or connective tissue) which provides support to the muscle is inflamed when sore (because of the demand placed on the muscle prior). Ever notice why your clothes seem a little bit tighter the day or two after a hard workout? The first phase of muscle repair is inflammation. When inflammation is present it can be a bit uncomfortable so I suggest stretching or foam rolling. The myofascial release is a form of soft tissue therapy where it lengthens/releases the tightness in the fascia; it removes restrictions on the muscle. Always drink a lot of water when foam rolling or stretching, all the toxins that were in the muscle have now been release into the blood stream. This release can cause headaches so it is best to hydrate and remove them from the body.
Always take time to take care of your body and this includes stretching especially after a workout. Always warm the muscles up before a workout and definitely give a nice stretch after, the muscles are warm and will get the most from the stretch.