Stretching isn’t exciting. Right? If only we can do without stretching exercises. If only we can skip the boring preliminaries and proceed straight to the more exciting parts of our workout, like lifting weights and crunking it in aerobics class.
Indeed, it’s pretty easy to become averse to stretching – before and after your workout sessions. It’s pretty easy to get kind of peeved at your personal trainer and think, Jeez, what’s this all about? I’m not losing any weight or building any muscles doing these silly poses. But really, if there is only one exercise in the world left for you to choose, then it should be stretching. That’s because, in its most basic form, stretching offers a wide range of health and fitness benefits that allow you to do so much in so little time. You can be sure, therefore, that every good fitness program will include a set of stretching exercises – and that there are actually a bunch of good reasons why.
Stretching is natural. What do you do when you wake in the morning? When you get up from the office chair that you’ve been sitting on for hours? That’s right: stretch. It’s a natural, instinctive activity. And it’s an activity which, once incorporated by your personal trainer into your workouts, prepares your muscles and your body for the more strenuous forms of exercise.
Stretching increases flexibility. Stretching involves elongating an individual muscle or muscle group to its fullest length; if you think this sounds brutal, well – it isn’t. Stretching actually helps you perform more comfortable and fluidly, and it helps you avoid muscle, joint, and tendon injuries that may otherwise occur from tight muscles, slow, restricted movements, long periods of inactivity, or aging. Increased flexibility from stretching, moreover, can significantly improve your exercise capacity.
Stretching promotes better circulation. Here’s something that your personal trainer may never tell you: stretching can actually decrease the risks of coronary disease. That’s because it increases blood flow to the muscles, brings more nourishment to various parts of your body, and prevents the hardening or clogging of your arteries (improving artery function). It also tends to remove more byproducts from the muscles and reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure – effects, no doubt, that come from improved circulation.
Stretching reduces stiffness. Feeling lethargic and stiff just before your session with your personal trainer? Feeling sore and hot and restless after a workout? Try stretching – both before your workout and during the cool-down period. Not only will this help reduce the stiffness that’s common before and after strenuous exercise; stretching exercises will also reduce tension, thereby allowing you to relax the tightest muscles and tensest parts of your body.
Stretching can eliminate muscle pain. After a grueling workout with your personal trainer, you may just as well expect all kinds of muscle pain and soreness the day after. Stretching exercises – particularly after the workout – can eliminate that. Muscle tightness, back pain, sore quadriceps, hip, hamstrings, butt, and other parts of body that can feel like they’re burning up: if you’re looking for a remedy, count on stretching exercises to serve as the great reliever.
Stretching improves balance. Some people complain about their own clumsiness, and how their joints are badly coordinated and how they seem to catch every dent on the road and trip too frequently. With stretching, this can be resolved. It improves the range of motion of your joints and keeps you in better balance, allowing you to avoid injuries, conquer age-related clumsiness, and be more naturally mobile.
Stretching relieves stress and relaxes the body. Indeed, it’s a great way of clearing your mind; it’s a mental balm. That’s why yoga, which features postures that offer full stretches to all parts of the body, is so effective as a form of meditation. Not only does it promote better flexibility and circulation; it also induces a kind of relaxation such as you cannot get from most other forms of exercise.