By Kate Lister
Want to be stronger, leaner, fitter, faster, healthier and less stressed? Yeah, thought so! Well... stretch! It might seem like a waste of valuable workout/shower/shake-drinking time to stretch your muscles, but, believe me, it’s absolutely vital to your training and general wellbeing, whatever your goals. Oh, and, sorry; that token one-minute forward fold at the end of your HIIT class just isn’t enough!
Stretching makes for supple muscles and supple muscles have many benefits...
Supple muscles protect you from injury.
Tight, stiff muscles are more likely to strain or tear - or, perhaps worse, cause unnecessary strain in the connective tissues of the joints. Constant stress of these tissues leads to often irreversible degeneration of the joints... not good news!
Stretched, supple muscles also offer greater and more comfortable range of motion in everything you do. When the muscles are flexible and the joints are less restricted, it takes less energy to move, as the body doesn’t need to fight against its own tensions. So that means running, cycling, swimming, weight lifting and life in general are all easier and your movement is far more energetically efficient. Chances are that’ll mean you can go that extra distance or take that extra rep so, hello, new PB.
Stretching de-stresses the whole body. Over-worked and tight muscles can create energetic blockages in the body, with the knock-on effect of stressing the entire nervous system as it tries to deal with these blockages. Constant tightness in the muscles can also inhibit blood circulation, which means oxygen and essential nutrients are unable to be dispersed through the body. The result of all of this is that we might feel over-tired, irritable, fuzzy-headed and generally stressed, or even suffer nasty migraines. To get the full de- stressing benefits, make sure you breathe deeply for at least 5-10 breaths in every stretch, and keep your focus with the body as you do - it’s all about that healing intention!
Connectedly, stretching aids recovery and lessens that post-workout pain. I know, there’s something satisfying in feeling that day-after burn in your thighs when you’ve squatted your evening away the night before, but it’s not so satisfying when you can’t even sit down to pee, right?! Or when you’re so stiff you can’t move from the sofa the day after, it starts to become a little counter-productive! Sooo, stretch! Giving the muscles time to release the shortening and tightening effects of exercise when you finish your workout will keep them loose and help blood flow effectively back through them, giving them that essential dose of oxygen.
Stretching can make you look slimmer and taller - yes, really. Stretching makes for great posture by working to balance opposing muscle groups so the body can efficiently support and align itself, getting you standing taller. Working with the muscles of the quads, hip flexors and lower back, shoulders and chest will particularly help in realigning the spine and adding a couple of inches above you! What’s more, happily stretched and supple muscles become longer and leaner, meaning we look and feel longer and leaner all over... perhaps the more shallow reason to breathe deep into those tensions, but valid, nonetheless!