If you exercise, you might wonder if stretching prevents injuries. You might be tempted to skip stretching in favor of jumping right into your main workout, but it's actually a very important part of an effective exercise routine. It could be as important as your actual workout, because it can help prevent injury.
Imagine your muscles are rubber bands. If you try to stretch a cold rubber band, it won't stretch very far, and may snap. If that same band is warm, it stretches much further. By stretching the muscles you're working, you'll find that you'll increase your range of motion, and therefore, you'll perform better during a workout.
When to Stretch
Many people think stretching before a workout is all that's necessary for good health. In fact, it's just as important to stretch after a workout, also.
Before you exercise, it's important to spend a few minutes warming up the muscle and priming it for exercise. Many injuries happen when muscles are "shocked," or suddenly stretched beyond their usual limits. By increasing these limits, you reduce the incidence of this happening.
An intense workout causes microscopic tears in the muscle. These tears are repaired over the course of the following day, and this healing is what causes the muscles to grow and become stronger. However, after strenuous exercise, lactic acid builds up in muscles, leading to post-exercise muscle discomfort. By stretching the muscles, you help disperse this pain-causing chemical throughout the body and reduce localized soreness. You will also continue to teach your muscles to become more pliable, which will make future workouts more effective.
By integrating stretching into your routine before and after you work out, you will find that you increase your flexibility and speed up your muscle growth. You'll also find that you're more comfortable between workouts, since muscle pain has been reduced. It's also a good way to warm up and cool down, since stretching naturally feels good to sore muscles.
Tips for Safe Stretching
Be sure to stretch slowly and consistently. Don't bounce. This can cause undue strain on a muscle, and can lead to muscle tears and strains. By stretching using a careful, controlled motion, you minimize the risk of injury. If you feel sharp pain or popping, stop stretching.
Breathe deeply when you stretch. Take a deep, cleansing breath in, and exhale as you stretch. This will help ensure that your muscle gets a nice extension. This also helps deliver oxygen to the muscles, further warming them up and readying them for exercise. Distributing oxygen throughout your system also maximizes their potential. If you stretch after a workout, this will help cleanse your muscles and better prepare them for growth.
By getting into the habit of stretching before and after a workout, you'll help condition your muscles for exercise, and help them recover faster. Over time, you'll find that your flexibility will be improved. Flexible muscles better withstand injury and help you perform better, whether in the gym or out. With regular stretching, daily activities will become easier and your overall health will benefit.