What happens when you don’t stretch? Nothing, well for a little while anyway. You throw yourself into the gym, you improve your diet and you start to see the results you’ve been after, so really you’re quite happy.
But then you start getting little aches and pains. Annoying niggles in your lower back, in your hamstrings, your quads… maybe your shoulders get a little tight too. You stretch a little, possibly even dig out your foam roller, and then it feels fine again so you carry on.
Looking around the gym you don’t really see anyone working out in a similar way to you stretching either, so you put it off, and put it off, and then it’s too late. You twinge your back squatting, or you feel an odd pull in your hamstring when deadlifting, and that’s it. You’re injured. Injured and out of action for a good few weeks, maybe even longer.
HOW INJURIES HAPPEN
As a result of exercising, your muscles become stronger. Obvious, right? But stronger muscles then become tighter muscles, pulling your bones with them, causing your pelvis to tilt or your spine to curve in ways it which it shouldn’t. And this can cause no end of trouble. A strong, lean and healthy body is all well and a good, but a mobile body is pretty essential too.
It isn’t just weight training and exercise that can affect your muscles and posture though. Sure, weight training will shorten muscles, making them sore and they do need help being lengthened back to their original state afterwards, but there are plenty of daily tasks and activities that put strain on our bodies too. And regular stretching can ease these issues too.
Sitting at your desk at work for 8+ hours a day? Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most common causes of muscle pain outside of the gym. Long hours of desk work can result in problems in the upper and lower back, the neck, shoulders and chest, especially if nothing is done in an attempt to counteract the hunched posture desk chairs love to encourage. Similarly, carrying a bag on one side of the body can cause the posture to fall out of lineament, and therefore become tighter on one side.
HOW STRETCHING CAN HELP
There are many benefits to stretching, which work together to aid in reducing your chance of getting injured.
The most obvious benefit of stretching is improving flexibility. An effective stretching plan will improve your range of motion, which as a result means less energy is requires to make the same movements as before. Flexible joints also lessen the likelihood of injuries acquired during workouts or during daily activities.
Stretching also contributes towards ensuring correct posture, by lengthening and loosening tight muscles that pull parts of the body out of their intended position. For example, stretching the muscles of the lower back, chest and shoulders help keep the spine in alignment and improving overall posture means there’s a reduced desire to hunch or slouch.
Stretching also increases blood supply to muscles, and therefore allows a greater nutrient supply to reach muscles too. This reducing muscle soreness and speeding up recovery from possible muscle or joint injuries.
HOW TO ADD STRETCHING TO YOUR ROUTINE
If you can’t add a whole extra stretching or flexibility workout into your schedule, start small. Adding around 10 to 15 minutes of stretching to your schedule post-workout can make a whole world of difference.
If you’re lucky enough to not have any major problem areas, begin by focus on the big muscle groups that commonly tighten and cause pain; the glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors in the lower body and the shoulders, upper back and lats up top.