Most people know the concept that stretching increases flexibility, but in the athletic realm, that is just the start. Stretching consistently can improve circulation, muscle flexibility, range of motion, and, consequently, help you perform better in workouts. When you exercise, your muscles repeatedly flex and contract. Stretching causes muscles to lengthen and relax, resulting in the ability to maximize muscle engagement in your next workout. Stretching also boosts your body’s circulation by increasing blood flow.
More circulation will increase the supply of nutrients and removal of waste from your body’s tissues, accelerating your recovery. Finally, joint range of motion is improved with stretching. This increased range of motion enables you to perform more dynamic tasks and improve technique in sport-specific areas (in my case, improved catch in my swim stroke). No matter what exercise background you come from, stretching is a universal weapon that many elite athletes have yet to tap into.
Generally speaking, it is best to stretch after a workout while your muscles are still warm.
In saying that, stretching is still extremely beneficial if you don’t have time post workout. Here are a few tips to help optimize your stretching:
- Stretching should not hurt. Stretch until you can feel it, and even a bit more, but not to the point of pain.
- Breathe. We often get distracted by focusing on stretching, and end up holding our breath. Don't. Breathe steadily and deeply, allowing your muscles to relax, enabling you to stretch further.
- No bouncing. Stretching is a steady process. Unlike other forms of exercise it is gauged in seconds, not repetitions. Move smoothly and avoid any pulsing movements.
- If you would like to add a stability ball, or other accessories to make stretching more interactive, go ahead. Ball stretching can involve lying on one’s back with arms out to the sides to stretch your chest, placing the ball under the lower back to stretch your abs, and curling your body around the ball (stomach down) to release your lower back. If you can’t touch your toes yet, use an elastic band around your feet with either end of the band in your hands to make up the difference.
Athletes that incorporate stretching into their daily routine experience numerous benefits related to performance. Improved circulation, flexibility, and increased range of motion all aid in muscle recovery, therefore, better preparing you for your next workout. Stretching is an underappreciated aspect of athletics. When utilized on a consistent basis, stretching improves your health and greatly assists in your recovery, which directly affects the level in which an athlete can train and compete.
*Note: Check out another Bridge post on the Benefits of Stretching Beyond your Training.