Stretching and Staying Limber is Good for Your Body and Mind
While the jury is still out on whether stretching can prevent injury, when appropriate, it can definitely help you rehab from many injuries, such as a muscle strain, or recover from surgery, says Michael Stehle, co-owner of The Training Room in New Jersey.
And there’s no question that it delivers a bounty of other benefits, including increased circulation, flexibility and a greater range of motion in your joints. Stretching makes your body mobile and agile and improves balance, too, and it releases synovial fluid stored in the joints the fluid lubricates all the joints, protecting them from friction and potential injury. Stretching also assists in correct posture by, for example, loosening the chest muscles, which helps to keep the shoulders and head back instead of in a forward, slouching position.
Stretching can also be good for the mind. Event 10-15 minutes of stretching can have a calming effect on the body, providing a mental break and a chance to recharge. Classes like yoga or Pilates help muscles stretch and also allow the mind to unwind.
To get the most from your stretching routine, follow these tips:
Warm up for at least 10 minutes before stretching (your muscles should be warm before you stretch), or use it as a 10-minute cool down from another sport. If you choose to stretch post-exercise, do a warm-up that simulates the movements you’ll be doing in your workout in order to warm up and prepare your body.
Sink into each stretch (no bouncing), going a little deeper with each inhalation and exhalation and holding each stretch for 30 seconds. (Save deep stretching for after your workout when muscles are more pliable.)
When you’re not rushed, repeat each stretch several times, going a bit deeper with each set but being careful not to force anything. If you are short on time, instead of trying to stretch your whole body, focus on a couple key areas such as your hamstrings and calves or your arms and shoulders.
Find your edge, a place where you feel a comfortable amount of tension, but back off if you feel any pain.
Take one or two flexibility classes, such as yoga or Pilates, a week for 45-60 minutes.
For tips on how to keep moving when pain does strike, read our Stay in the Game story that includes sound advice from sports medicine experts to help protect you against an exercise injury, or bounce back from one.