You know the feeling of holding a stretch after a long-distance run, squashing the competition on the field, or crushing a PB — you don’t want to get out of the stretch because it feels so good. It’s juicy, delicious, delightful, and incredibly beneficial for relieving your aching muscles. But what’s happening in the body that makes us feel so good after stretching?
In this article, we’ll focus on the benefits of stretching, why it’s integral for your fitness progress, and when to treat your body to a stretch session. So give your neck a few rolls from side to side, and let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
Why do we stretch?
First, let’s cover why we stretch, sometimes involuntarily.
Without stretching, our bodies would be stiff with short, tight, contracted muscles. Performing physical movement would prove to be challenging. So, to combat this, our bodies use stretching as a mechanism to redistribute fluid build-up, and loosen and realign the muscles.
Scientifically speaking, it feels good so that we’re motivated to do it. That “feel good” feeling we get from stretching is a natural reward built into our bodies. Essentially, it’s a physiological system based on the general principle: “if it feels good, do it.”
Humans stretch involuntarily, as do animals, but there are tangible benefits to adding voluntary stretching to your daily routine, especially for those following a fitness training plan.
What are the benefits of stretching?
The truth is that many people, gym-goers and fitness fans included, exclude stretching from their routine. If you relate to this, read on to discover the multiple advantages of stretching and how integral it is for optimal health.
Helps Release Endorphins
Anyone who exercises regularly should be familiar with endorphins — they’re part of the reason that exercising gives you a euphoric feeling afterwards. Endorphins are hormones that our bodies produce as a natural painkiller. When our bodies release them, it leaves a sense of calm and well-being.
When you exercise, you put your body under stress that triggers endorphin production. And research shows that calming the mind through meditation and stretching helps those endorphins release, easing pain and feeling oh-so-good.
When you stretch, your body responds by increasing blood flow to the targeted area because your strained muscles need oxygen to heal. Your heart starts pumping harder to send oxygen to the muscles via red blood cells. This improves circulation short term.
Triggers the Parasympathetic Nervous System
A quick refresher: The parasympathetic nervous system relates to your body’s “rest and digest” functionality (not to be confused with the sympathetic nervous system, also referred to as “fight or flight”).
Stretching increases parasympathetic activity in the body, boosting feelings of calm and relaxation. Any time you can activate the “rest and digest” functions in your body, a little stress lifts from your life. And who doesn’t want that?
Stretching & Fitness
Physical activity demands a lot of the body, from head to toe, inside and out. Your mental capacity to power through even when it’s tough is just as crucial as maintaining proper form to workout safely. Stretching plays a considerable part in exercising safely. Here’s how stretching benefits your fitness.
Increases Flexibility & Joint Mobility
Flexibility is a hot word in the fitness world. So many people complain that they’re “not flexible enough.” But everyone’s abilities are different, so there’s no use comparing your forward bend to someone else’s splits.
With stretching, you can train your tendons and joints to loosen and lengthen. Not only will this help you do the splits, but your flexion and extension will be at optimal capacity. With this, your range of motion in your joints increases, boosting your training and sports performance.
For aging bodies, stretching is beneficial for maintaining flexibility as the body naturally becomes stiffer later in life.
Lowers Injury Risk
When you don’t stretch after exercise, your muscles can shorten and tighten, impacting your mobility. Then, when you try to use your tight muscles during your next training session, they may not bend and extend fully, putting you at risk of strains, tweaks, muscle damage, and pain. Adding stretches after each workout is better than requiring rehabilitation due to a preventable injury.
Reduces Recovery Time
Love working out but despise the muscle soreness you feel a day or two later? Are you stretching properly? Your muscles need time to rest and recover between strenuous workouts, including stretching properly after your training session.
As we mentioned above, stretching can improve circulation, which proves beneficial for muscle repair. When you workout, your muscles contract, and the delicate blood vessels known as capillaries start to shrink. Not ideal, right? Well, when you stretch, the blood vessels around the muscle widen, and the heart pumps harder, allowing more oxygen, glucose, nutrients, and protein to find their way to the area needing repair. In exchange, those blood vessels flush out toxins and waste products. That’s better!
The Best Times to Stretch
There are certain times throughout each day when a good stretch is exactly what your body craves. Undoubtedly, we could all use a little more movement during the day, especially working at a desk full-time.
If you don’t already stretch regularly, it’s recommended to implement a short stretching routine at least 3 times per week, spending 60 seconds on each static stretch.
After You Exercise
Possibly the most important time to stretch is after your sweat session. Stretching your muscles when they’re already pumped up from your workout increases blood flow to that area, allowing for better muscle repair.
As we mentioned above, static stretching and rest post-workout are vital for reducing the risk of injuries and speeding up recovery time. When you put your muscles through strenuous activity and require so much of them, they need a chance to rest and repair (so you can be stronger for the next workout!).
What about before you exercise? We recommend warming up for 5 to 10 minutes, then doing some dynamic stretches to prime the body for exercise. Talk to your trainer about the appropriate stretches for your body and fitness goals.
In the Morning
There’s a reason that people need at least 8 hours of sleep. The body needs one-third of each day to recover and be ready for the next one. Most people sleep horizontally, which means fluids that move around the body tend to pool along the spine. Stretching when you wake up helps redistribute this fluid throughout your body.
If you don’t naturally stretch when you wake up, try implementing a short stretching routine to prepare your body for a healthy day of movement.
After Sitting for Long Periods
Like the point above, sitting for long periods stiffens the body as fluids settle, and muscles conform to certain positions (hello, tight hip flexors when you spend your working hours sitting).
If you tend to get into the zone (or a rabbit hole) and forget to stretch, try setting an alarm as a reminder. Even 5 minutes can help ease discomfort and muscle tension, so you can dive into your task feeling refreshed.
Based on all the benefits listed above, it’s no surprise that stretching before bed supports the release of built-up tension from your day and calms your mind. By triggering the parasympathetic nervous system, your body knows it’s safe to relax and hit the hay for a deep sleep. This can be very helpful for those who have trouble sleeping.
When Your Body Tells You To
Sometimes, your body will instinctively tell you when it needs to stretch, known as pandiculation.
Your muscles and joints may be stiff after sleeping, sitting, or strengthening, and before you realize it, your arms are stretched above your head for a quick release of the soft tissues. Always listen to your body when it says, “Hey, I need some movement, please!”
How to Stretch Safely
Now don’t get all excited and stretch past your body’s limits. Here are some ground rules to keep in mind while you treat your muscles to a nice stretch sesh:
- Be gentle: Take it slow with each stretch and listen to your body’s signals. Pay attention to tension you can handle versus pain that could cause damage. Stretching a tendon slightly beyond its natural state can cause permanent damage.
- Treat both sides equally: Avoid focusing on one side of your body and aim for symmetry.
- Remember to breathe: Breathing deeply will aid in activating your parasympathetic nervous system, giving you a calm mind. Try inhaling in your static stretch, then pushing a hair further in the stretch with your exhale.
- Keep it smooth: Try not to bounce or jolt while holding static stretches. The best results will come from smooth movements, whereas bouncing can strain the muscles you’re trying to stretch.
- Be consistent: Nothing in fitness is ever “one and done,” and the same is true for stretching. Consistency is key to reaping all the benefits.
What did we learn?
Maintaining a consistent and safe stretching routine enhances fitness performance and overall health. Whether you seek to reduce recovery time between training sessions or get a quick euphoric boost from endorphins, stretching is your friend!
Our trainers at EverFlex have decades of collective experience in fitness programming, and we are huge proponents of stretching as part of recovery. Get in touch with us to learn more about unlocking your fitness potential with our all-in-one training program.