10 Reasons Stretching Is The Most Under-Rated Exercise

by Maarten Van Nus

marionette-01Think of your body as a marionette. The strings from the handle to the puppet are your muscles. By either pulling up or relaxing the strings, you control the movement of the puppet.

This is much the way our bodies’ muscles work. By contracting (pulling) and relaxing our muscles we control joint movements in our body. The more supple and elastic our muscles, the easier it is for our joints to move smoothly and correctly so they function at their best.

And, what is the best way to keep our muscles pliable and relaxed?

Stretching, of course!

The best part about stretching:

  • It is really easy to do.
  • It doesn’t require equipment.
  • It can be done in a small space anywhere.
  • It is relaxing.

Pre-workout Stretching

Usually, when we are preparing to exercise, we worry about getting into appropriate clothes and getting started quickly. However, our body isn’t ready just because we’ve put on our workout outfit.

We are about to start using our muscles in very demanding ways. When cold, our muscles are contracted and tight. Calling upon cold, tight muscles to suddenly work hard can lead to either acute or chronic injury – or both!

Our muscles need to be warm and loose to avoid injury and increase their strength. Muscles need lots of oxygen and blood flow to work properly and it is best if they are flexible and relaxed when you start moving.

A pre-workout stretch should be:

  • Limited to only the muscles that will be worked during the exercise session that is about to start.
  • Your muscles are cold and tight: stretch only until you feel your muscle pulling a bit then back off a tiny amount.
  • Held for between only 5 to 20 seconds each; if you hold the stretch longer muscle strength can actually decrease by up to 5% and muscle explosive power can decrease by up to 3%.

Post-workout Stretching

It’s in the post workout stretch that you can go deeper and longer. Your body and muscles are warm from the workout and they are able to sustain deeper and longer stretches, up to 45 seconds each. Post-workout stretching prevents the muscles from becoming too tight over time.

Stretch-Only Workout

Man and woman stretching together.If you are doing a stretch-only workout, it’s best to begin with a 45- to 60-second walk on the spot combined with swinging your arms slowly up and down, backward and forward, or out to sides. This will put some warmth into your muscles. Once you feel warm, then slowly go into your stretching routine starting gently and gradually and then progressing to stretching deeper and deeper.

Ten Benefits of Regular Stretching

Once you get into the routine of stretching you will experience the following benefits.

1.    The Start – Proper Movement

When our muscles are tight due to inflammation and stiffness they constrict natural movement and can misalign joints and cause pain.

Stretched properly and regularly, muscles contract and relax smoothly, allowing our body to move the way it’s meant to, without restrictions.

2.    Straight Out Of The Blocks – Reduce Joint Pressure

Tight muscles pulling our joints out of alignment results in reduced range of motion and strength and causes pain and discomfort.

Before reaching for pain-killers or heading to a surgeon to fix sore shoulders, knees, feet, elbows and hips, spend some time learning about stretching.

Stretching returns muscles to a pliable state, which lets our joints move freely, as they were designed to, and eliminates joint pain and inflammation.

3.    Dealing With Headwinds – Maintain Balance

When we stand or sit, our body automatically adjusts itself so that our eyes are always level; we don’t even know it is happening.

Level eyes, along with our inner ear, maintain our balance and keep us going in the direction we wish. If our eyes are not level we involuntarily move to either the left or right and stumble and fall down while walking or running.

If the muscles of our bodies are not balanced side-to-side, we will have a harder time keeping our eyes level. To compensate, our body will contort any way it must to ensure level eyes. Left to long these contortions lead to uneven muscle balance (or strength) between our right- and left-side.

If muscle imbalance goes unchecked, our body remains in a state of never-ending re-adjustment that eventually leads to pain and serious joint and muscle injuries.

Regular stretching stops this by encouraging muscular balance across our body so our joints, tendons, bones, and muscles move harmoniously.

4.    Clearing The Hurdles – Reduce Injury

Shoulder pain due to hips-01By keeping our muscles supple and flexible and, thus, maintaining stress-free joints and muscular balance, we are greatly reducing the risk of injury, not only when exercising but also in every day activities.

Stretched, lean muscles can absorb
more shock from sudden movements, slips, trips, tumbles, and strains than tight, tense ones.

5.    Setting Your Pace – Prehabilitation for and Prevention of Surgery

Man holding knee in pain.

Until relatively recently, Total knee Replacements (TKR) were for those with extreme cases of arthritis.
In 2006, the Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons estimated that knee replacements would — by 2030 — increase by 773%, a large portion of which will be due to injury caused by tight and atrophied muscles caused by a lack of muscular stretching and strength.

Think of stretching as prehabilitation (prehab) for a healthy, pain-free body.

So many of today’s hip and knee replacements and back surgeries can be easily avoided by just keeping our muscles flexible and pliant so our joints, ligaments, and bones remain injury free.

Remember: Relieving pressure on our joints keeps them staying healthy and relieving tightness in our muscles relieves pressure on our joints.

6.    Anticipate The Break-Line – Relieve Pinched Nerves

Although surrounded by protective sheaths that can endure pressure caused by the regular expansion and contraction of our muscles, nerves are susceptible to injury caused by ongoing pressure or constriction due tight, contracted muscles as well as ill-aligned joints and bones.

Many of us suffer needlessly for longer than we should simply because we believe the best solution for pain is rest. But, doing stretching may solve the problem before you sit down and start being held prisoner by it.

An example of a condition that can be treated with stretching right from the start is Sciatic Syndrome. The sciatic nerve is our largest nerve and runs from the base of our backbone through our hip and down the back of each of our legs. The syndrome begins when consistent pressure on the nerve itself or pressure from a herniated disc in our spine inhibits the nerve’s ability to communicate with our brain by compressing the surrounding sheath.

Herniated discs and other sciatic pain is often because the muscles that runs across our butt and hips to stabilize the hip joint are too tight causing a misalignment of discs in our back or our hip joints.

Many doctors end up prescribing pain-killers and even surgery to relieve the ongoing pain that can be associated with Sciatic Syndrome. We recommend that – prior to using a lot of pain-killers or considering surgery – you find and properly do some stretches for relieve of Sciatic Syndrome.

7.    Maintain Acceleration – Reduce Foot Pain

Keeping both your toes and calves stretched results in happy, flexible, strong feet ready to assist with painless balance and walking.

Heel stretch and heel 3D x-ray showing injury Our calf muscles need to be kept supple and loose to allow the Achilles Tendons to do their work. Stretching the calves in all three angles lets you greatly reduce the tension in the sole of the foot and heel. Among other things, calf stretches can prevent and correct Plantar Fasciitis.

Everything in our body is connected. Remember that while stretching you may notice other parts of your body reacting to the release of tension in the muscles you are stretching – parts that you never knew were influenced by those muscles.

8.    The Bell Lap – Reduce Lower Back Pain and Tightness

A lot of lower back pain is caused by muscle tightness, particularly in our to largest muscle groups of the body: our butt (or glutes) and the back of our thighs (Hamstrings). When they remain stressed and tight for extended periods of time, these large muscle groups can cause havoc for joints and tendons from the neck down to our ankles. 3D x-ray of sore lower spine

The small muscles of the lower back cannot put up much resistance to the largest muscles in the body and will quickly succumb to any tension or pressure the big muscles exert. So, eventually, both the large and small muscles will be in a stressed state.

Stretching the larger muscles early means the smaller muscles associated with our spine will not get into a stressed state and, thus, will function well. If back pain has been present for a long period of time, a concerted effort to stretch and loosen both the large muscles of the butt and legs and the smaller muscles of the spinal column will be required.

9.    The Final Kick – Sleep Better

A stretched body is a relaxed body, which naturally allows for a better sleep. Gently stretching the muscles of our body, particularly areas that feel tight or painful, is a great pre-sleep routine. Once our muscles are properly stretched they relax, our joints move freely, our body is balanced, and our pain and restrictions disappear so when our head hits the pillow our whole body is more relaxed and our sleep is deeper and more fulfilling.

10.    Recording A Personal Best – Anti-Aging

When all of the above benefits come into place, we are in balance, our joints are pain-free, our nerves are free to fire easily, and our blood is flowing unrestricted through your muscles, our body isn’t constantly at work trying to keep itself going. A body at ease allows optimum cell reproduction and optimum cell reproduction slows biological aging, it may even reverse itself.

The Final Stretch

Woman lying on back with feet together, knees bent and spread apart.

What other workout allows you to lie like this? For as long as you want?

Despite all the information on exercising and staying healthy, stretching is still often overlooked as one of the most beneficial practices for a healthy,long life.

Start incorporating it into your life today, whether you are inactive or active, because — regardless of your fitness — stretching goes a long way to keeping everyday activities and exercise and sports enjoyable and long.

 

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Yes, show me how to heal with stretching
Maarten Van Nus
 

Maarten is a health & fitness specialist who has a particular interest in health for Baby Boomers. He has over 40 years of experience in the fitness industry and loves what he does.

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