A well-rounded workout routine includes three parts: cardiovascular exercise (like dancing, running or walking), resistance training (such as weightlifting, bodyweight exercises or Pilates) and stretching. Stretching is often overlooked, but it’s just as crucial for your health as cardio and toning moves.
The health benefits of stretching
Stretching has many health benefits. It can:
- Increase your athletic performance, making you a better walker, runner or dancer
- Improve your posture
- Help you feel more relaxed and less stressed
- Increase the range of motion in your joints
- Make daily activities, like squatting or lifting, easier
- Reduce soreness after a workout
- Prevent and reduce back pain
- Increase blood flow to the muscles
- Reduce general aches and pains
- Decrease tension headaches
Tips for stretching
Here are some tips for stretching the right way and avoiding injury:
Never stretch cold muscles. Static stretching (like reaching for your toes) is best performed following a short active warm-up. Before stretching, do at least five minutes of cardio, like jumping jacks, walking or jogging.
Do dynamic stretches before a workout that includes fast walking, running, biking or jumping activities. Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching involves controlled, active movements, such as deep squats or arm and hip circles. Dynamic stretches can be beneficial to add to your pre-workout routine. They should target the muscle groups you plan to work.
Focus on your major muscle groups. Create more balance and decrease tension in your body by stretching each muscle group, including your calves, thighs, hips, back, arms, shoulders and neck.
Breathe and hold the stretch. Breathe normally while you stretch and hold each movement for about 15-30 seconds performing 2-3 times per day. If one side of the body is tighter than the other, you may need to hold the pose longer.
Don’t push through pain. Listen to your body. While stretching can create some discomfort and tension, it should never be painful. If it hurts, stop immediately. You should only feel a light to medium pulling sensation in the muscle when stretching.
Aim for consistency. Try to stretch at least 2-3 times a week.
Add movement to your stretches. Practices like tai chi and yoga can be excellent ways to increase your flexibility and range of motion.
When to see a professional
I recommend seeing a physical therapist if you have a chronic health condition or injury, recently had surgery, or are new to exercise. At physical therapy, we can help you create the right cardiovascular, strength and stretching routine for your body and overall health.