Struggling with physical activities like jogging or sport? A bit stressed out at work or with the children? Maybe stretching is your answer!

What is Stretching?

Stretching is when a specific muscle or muscle group is elongated (stretched) in order to improve muscle elasticity (flexibility).  Stretching has many different forms, such as “Ballistic” stretches and “Dynamic” stretches which I will not talk about today as they are for people more advanced and experienced with stretching exercises than the Average Joe!

The form of stretching I will be referring to today is “Static” stretching.  Static stretching gets its name due to the fact you are static (surprise!), or stationary, when performing the exercise.  Static stretching is well-known to be the safest method for stretching while also producing excellent results improving flexibility!

What is flexibility?

Flexibility is the Range of Movement (ROM) in a joint, or series of joints, and length in muscles that cross those joints.  An example of ROM and flexibility would be your ability to do the splits.  Someone who is flexible and has a good ROM in the muscles and joints comprising hips, groin and legs would be able to do the splits.  If you do not have a good ROM in that area you would have a lot of trouble performing the splits and may even injure yourself trying!

Benefits of Stretching to Improve Flexibility

Stretching and improved flexibility is beneficial for better health and wellbeing for a number of reasons:

  1. Good flexibility can reduce the chance of injuries, even in day-to-day life.  Whereas bad flexibility can increase the chance!  An example would be bending over to pick something off the ground.  Poor ROM in the back and shoulders could cause muscle strain for the Average Joe (believe me, this is more common than you think!).
  2. Good flexibility improves the ROM in joints involved in performing day-to-day tasks (think lifting a box into a shelf, or even walking up stairs!)
  3. In some studies, flexibility has been proven to provide mental relaxation and stress relief!  This is because endorphins (happy chemicals) are released in the brain when stretching.
  4. Good flexibility benefits you in almost every sporting activity.  Increased ROM in the groin and legs means you have a longer stride when running and cncreased ROM in the shoulder, back and arms allows further leverage (more power) when throwing a baseball!

Important Information to Know before Getting out There to Stretch!

Before you use this new information and start stretching to improve your flexibility for better health and wellbeing, it is important for you to know the following:

Always warm up for 10 minutes before stretching!  This could be as simple as a 10 minute walk or jog around the block.  Stretching your muscles while they are still cold and rigid can result in muscle strains and even muscle tears!

Improved flexibility will not happen over-night!  It is something that should be improved over time.  Studies show that flexibility improves significantly when stretching sessions have around 2-3 day gaps in between, so set aside 15-20 minutes every 2-3 days for a good stretchin’!  At the very least, you will get 20 minutes of mental relaxation!

Do not overdo it!  Some beginners stretch beyond their limit before they have the required ROM to do so expecting to improve flexibility faster.  This will result in an injury!  To improve your stretching you should hold the static stretch when you feel moderate tension in the muscle – it does not have to be painful to improve flexibility!  Hold the stretch for 1 minute and then move on to the next one.

 What Stretches Should I do?

There are numerous websites, books and articles on excellent stretching exercises to improve flexibility.  I would suggest working on areas where you are least flexible first, and then incorporate new stretches in as your ability to judge what your body is capable of improves!  10-20 minutes each session is all you need to improve your flexibility.

I hope this article has motivated you to start stretching and improve your flexibility for health and wellbeing!  I stretch regularly and love to see my flexibility improve every time I stretch – not to mention I feel better for it!  Happy stretching!