Do your joints and muscles frequently feel stiff and achy, especially after a long day at work or a tough workout? Are you exercising regularly but not seeing the improvements you want? If you’re not regularly stretching, this could explain why!
Our physical therapy team would be happy to help you develop an effective stretching and mobility routine to enhance athletic performance, improve your physical health, and prevent injury. Call us today to schedule an appointment!
5 Evidence-Backed Benefits of Stretching
Research shows that stretching improves your health in several ways.1 Here are 5 reasons to start adding mobility work into your weekly gym routine:
- Reduces muscle tension. Chronically tense and tight muscles have restricted blood flow and may not activate as effectively. Stretching (especially with tools such as foam rollers) alleviates this tension and help muscles contract more efficiently—then relax more fully.
- Increases the range of motion in your joints. Joints that move better, work better! Stretching helps your joints move fluidly and throughout their full range of motion. This improves movement efficiency and function, which means better performance.
- May reduce your risk of injury and low back pain. Stretching prepares your body for exertion, improves posture, helps correct muscle-length imbalances, and maximizes flexibility in the hips, shoulders, and ankles—all of which are essential for improved injury prevention and spinal health.
- Improves circulation. In addition to improving muscle mechanics, enhanced circulation can accelerate your recovery, reduce post-workout soreness, and increase your energy levels.
- Helps ease stress. There’s a strong link between physical tension and mental tension.2 By alleviating physical tension with a consistent stretching routine, you can ease psychological stress, too. Plus, evidence shows that stretching before a workout improves your “psychological readiness” and helps you get your head in the game.3
3 Tips to Improve Your Stretching
Not all stretching was created equal. Here are three tips from our physical therapist staff to ensure you’re stretching the right way:
- Never stretch “cold.” While stretching may reduce the risk of injury, it may actually cause tissue damage if done without a proper warm-up. Warming up ensures your tissues are literally warm enough and pliable enough to withstand the demands of stretching. Before any stretching session, try a simple 5-minute routine such as light jogging or cycling that gets your heart rate slightly elevated, your limbs moving, and your blood flowing.
- Practice dynamic and static stretches. It’s not clear that static stretching pre-workout causes injury—assuming, that is, you’ve adequately warmed up your body as previously discussed.4 In fact, studies suggest that a combination of static stretching and dynamic sports-specific movements before a workout can improve performance and optimize range of motion.3,4 Your best bet is to do both static and dynamic stretches—static isometric holds increase range, while dynamic moves prime your muscles and central nervous system for activity.
- Make sure to hold your stretches long enough to elicit true changes in the tissues! A quick 30-second quad stretch isn’t going to do anything meaningful. Just like stretching a rubber band and then letting it go right away, your connective tissues will just go back to their normal position after a short stretch. This is due to a phenomenon called “creep.” How long is long enough? Static stretches should be held for at least 90 seconds to 2 minutes in order to elicit true changes in muscle and tissue length. So get that timer out!
One final tip: understand your body and your particular needs. Not everybody has the same areas of mobility limitations, postural imbalances, adhesions, scar tissue build-up, and so on. In fact, some people have too much mobility in certain joints and should focus on stability and strengthening rather than stretching in these areas.