I’ve witnessed many individuals complete a workout and skip stretching. I’ve even done this myself. Skipping stretching while training for a run was one reason I ended up needing physical therapy. So why is stretching important and how can you get started?
Importance of stretching
Stretching is typically thought of as a way to stay flexible. While this is true, there are several additional reasons to include stretching in your everyday routine. They include decreasing the risk of injury, improving performance, allowing muscles to work more efficiently, maintaining joint range of motion and more. Without stretching, muscles can become shortened and can potentially create muscle imbalances.
How to get started
Regularly stretching, at least 2-3 times per week, provides the most benefit. Stretching prior to exercise helps prepare muscles for activity by warming them up. It’s best to avoid stretching cold muscles. Five to ten minutes of light activity such as marching in place, walking, etc. before stretching helps get blood flowing. When you begin stretching, the goal is to hold a stretch for 30 seconds without bouncing. During a stretch, tension should be felt but not pain. If you feel pain, the muscle may be injured. Always consult your physician if you feel pain or think you may have an injury.
Several free resources about stretching are available. The US Department of Veteran Affairs as well as the American Council on Exercise and American Sports & Fitness Association have resources to help you get started on a stretching routine. For a tailored stretching program specific to individual needs, it is recommended to reach out to a physical therapist or other certified healthcare professional.