Today is just a typical weekday morning (or evening). You show up to the gym, check in, refill your water bottle, and then mozy over to a treadmill to start your warm-up. You walk for a little bit, then start your run. After about 20 – 30 minutes of cardio, you decide to hit the weights.
First set of squats, complete.
Second set, challenging.
Third set, you start thinking, “either I’m just out of shape, or these knees are about to give out.”
You do a few more exercises to burn out the legs, tell the gym staff, “see you tomorrow, same time as usual,” and rush out the door.
What is one thing you may have missed in this scenario?
You forgot to stretch!
Stretching, although commonly taken for granted, is gravely important to include in your fitness regime for three reasons:
- Stretching improves recovery, thus boosting your ability to workout harder next time.
- Stretching reduces aches and pain.
- Stretching helps to improve posture.
These are not the only reasons stretching is important, but they are concepts that may be overlooked. We all know stretching is inherently good for you. However, we all at least skip it occasionally, if not most times. Regardless of your reason (or excuse) for skipping the flexibility portion of your cool down in our hypothetical situation above, you are slowing down your progress by not stretching.
Let’s break down these aforementioned benefits of involving stretching in your fitness plan, according to “10 Reasons Why You Should Be Stretching”.
Stretching increases range of motion.
Static or dynamic stretching, as well as myofascial release, such as with a foam roller, help to increase the mobility of joints. Increasing your range of motion can make everyday movement, such as bending and lifting, much smoother, or possibly painless. Think about it: if standing up out of your chair generally causes pain in the knees or hips, you may simply have a limited range of motion in those particular joints. If that is not really your dilemma, then this next point may be more in your world.
Stretching reduces tightness in muscles.
Ever get muscle cramps while running or feel that twinge in your back from sitting hunched over for too long? Stretching helps to reduce this tension simply by lengthening shortened muscles. Keep in mind, stretching does not permanently lengthen muscles that have been chronically shortened, but it does temporarily relieve that tightness and overtime, with consistency, you can increase your flexibility.
Stretching helps to improve postural alignment, thus improving overall function.
Be mindful of your current posture. Are you sitting with your spine long and shoulders rolled down and back or are you sitting with your shoulders rounded forward?
Posture influences muscle tightness. If you have poor posture, it can lead to shortened muscles. When your muscles are shortened, your range of motion is limited, which makes everyday movement a challenge. If your everyday movement is inhibited, would you expect your barbell squats to be any easier on your knees?
By stretching while your muscles are warm, such as after exercising, you can help decrease muscle tightness, correct posture, and enhance your range of motion, making movement drastically easier. If activities of daily living, such as bending down to pick something up off the floor, become easy-peasy, think about how well you will start progressing with much more complex movements.
Keep these benefits in mind next time you try to dip out of your workout early!