Tell the truth...do you stretch after your workout?
Many of us, and yes, I’m including myself in there, sometimes, don’t.
But it is really important. It’s an important part of exercise recovery, we’ll get on to that in a minute.
So, if you’re someone who doesn’t, maybe you’re keen to get on with your day, maybe the kids are harassing you, I’m here to say, make some time for it.
Even if it’s later in the day when everyone has gone to bed.
Make some time for stretching.
Let’s get on to the why…
If you’ve been working
out for a while and not doing enough stretching you might notice your
body getting a bit, well, tight.
You might not spring out of bed in the morning. You might feel like your hunched over, a bit like an old woman. You might feel sluggish and more irritable than normal. You might even be wondering when all these benefits of exercising that you’ve been promised over the years are going to show up.
The problem is, exercise is a stress. It’s a good stress, yes, but it’s still a stress. And if you don’t recover from this resulting stress properly your body is going to hold on to it. And pent-up stress is never good.
Ok, are we down with that? But, there are actually numerous benefits of stretching, so let’s look at a few…
One of the main benefits
of stretching, at any time, but especially after a workout, is
increasing your flexibility.
When you workout your muscles become tired. They shorten, they become tight and weak. So when you need to use them, they can’t extend to their full capacity. That’s when your risk of injury increases significantly.
Other parts of your body, joints, other muscle groups, take the strain.
Stretching, especially after you’ve had a vigorous workout, really does help to release that tightness. It helps to keep muscles flexible and healthy. So when you need them, they have full range of motion and can do their job properly.
Aerobic activity is,
hands down, the best way to reduce your blood pressure.
But, there are some recent studies that show stretching is also good for reducing blood pressure. That’s because it helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
Huh, what’s that?
It’s a network of nerves that tells your body to relax and breathe after periods of stress or danger, like physical activity.
It improves blood flow to your muscles. It helps to reduce your heart rate and the amount of work your lungs have to do.
All of this helps to reduce your blood pressure.
If you suffer with joint
pain, whether that’s a few aches and pains, or something a bit more
serious like arthritis, you may be tempted to rest.
To not use or stretch your joints too much.
But, that’s really not helpful.
By moving your joints, especially with stretches you help to strengthen the muscles around your joints, and to lubricate them.
This means your muscles can take some of the strain away from your joints.
So, if you do have joint pain, don’t forgo light exercise and lots of stretching.
As I said above, when
you exercise your muscles become tight and sore. And after a few
days, you will get what is known as DOMS, delayed onset muscle
Stretching, particularly after your workout, helps this muscle stiffness. It helps loosen those tight muscles and will help with DOMS.
It helps improve your recovery time, meaning you’ll be ready for your next workout session much sooner.
You might be thinking...oh yay!
But, it also means you’ll be ready to get back to your everyday life a lot sooner. You know, running around after your toddler. Picking them up. Cleaning up after them. All the usual stuff.
Tight muscles are short
elongated muscles are weak muscles. Think
about that as we talk about posture.
When you slouch, your shoulders roll forward and the front of your body becomes compressed. Does this happen because you’ve got tight ab muscles, or does slouching cause tight app muscles?
I think it’s a chicken and egg situation.
It’s a bit of both, but anyway, I digress.
The front of your body becomes compressed. The muscles shorten. The muscles on the back of your body become elongated.
They become longer than they should be to compensate. These muscles are weaker. But, they’re having to do an awful lot more work because your ab muscles, your hip flexors, your pecs, they all can’t do their job properly because they’re compressed and shorter than they should be.
This not only leads to an exacerbation of your poor posture, it leads to pain. Chronic muscle pain. Whether that’s in your lower back, your hamstrings, your neck, your shoulders or even your feet.
Stretching, particularly the front of your body helps to loosen up those tight muscles again. So the front of your body extends and the back of your body regains proper alignment.
It helps to get all of your body’s muscles working in harmony. With every muscle doing the job it was designed to do.
If you ever have those
days where you feel a bit mhew. You know what
I mean, you
You’re more irritable than normal. You’re not as productive. You’re not quite as proactive.
If you’re having one of those days, you might need a good stretch.
I know it sounds silly, but tight muscles can make you feel more than a bit sore and achy, they can make you feel a bit drained. A bit overtired.
And it’s not surprising.
They’re having to work extra hard to do their job. And going about your day to day life with any level of pain is, well, draining.
And sometimes it’s the low level pain that will take more out of you. Because you won’t notice for a while. It creeps up on you.
If you’re in a lot of pain, you’ve got no choice but to rest. But if it’s low level. You suck it up and get on with it. But it still takes it’s toll.
Releasing that tension will help to ease some of that pain. It will loosen those tight muscles and help you get the spring in your step back.
So, if you’re feeling it, having one of those days, have a good stretch. Do some yoga. It will help.
There are two main types
of stretches, dynamic stretches and static stretches.
I’m going to focus on static stretching here because it should really be done after a good workout. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, is a great way to warm up. Because they get your muscles moving.
Ok, so static stretching. This is where you get into a position so that you feel a stretch and you hold it.
You hold it for, well, as long as feels comfortable. As long as you want to really. As you become more flexible you’ll be able to hold the stretches for longer.
And use your breath.
Breathe in, and as you breathe out move into the stretch. Breathe in and hold the stretch, and as you breathe out, move a little deeper, if you feel you can. If not, just hold it.
The key point with static stretches is that you move into the stretch until you feel a stretch but it should not be painful.
It might feel uncomfortable. You might think, oh wow this is tough, but it shouldn’t hurt. Any pain, especially sharp pain, come out of the stretch immediately.
It could be that your form isn’t spot on, so you might want to get in touch and we can check your it out together.
The important thing is
to get into a regular stretching routine. Whether that is directly
after your workout or a couple of hours after.
Find a time you know you can stretch on a regular basis.
Next you want to make sure you’ve got a variety of stretches that are hitting the major muscle groups.
Hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, abdominals, lower back, upper back, pectorals, shoulders, arms and neck.
You don’t have to hit every muscle group in every stretching session. Concentrate on the areas of your body that you've worked in your workout session.
I’ve developed a few stretching flows to make sure I hit everything I need to. They’re like yoga flows, where you move from one stretch into another seamlessly.
I really like this way of doing it because I can do the stretches whenever I want to. I just move through the flow quickly if I haven’t worked out, so it’s like dynamic stretches. And once my muscles are warmed up I start holding the stretches.
I’m in the process on making a video to show you the flow, so keep checking back if you’re interested. In the meantime, try this full body stretch.
Ok, I think we should
all make a pact, me as well, to stretch more. What
do you think?
I think we owe it to ourselves.
Our bodies, and our minds work so hard everyday, we deserver to reward them with a little bit of stress relief. A bit or relief from chronic discomforts.
It’s not only good to relieve that muscle tension, but hopefully you’ll be able to see it’s really good for your overall health. Physical health and mental health.
And with that, I’m off to do some yoga.
How about you?
If you want free workouts delivered straight to your inbox then remember to sign up for my newsletter.
Still have questions about the importance of stretching after a workout? Head to the FAQ section...