First, it's essential to understand the different types of stretching. The two most common types are static and dynamic. Static stretching refers to holding a stretch for a set amount of time, such as ten or twenty seconds, and it's likely the type you're most familiar with. Remember sitting on the floor in gym class, reaching for your toes, and counting to ten? That was static stretching.
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, involves active motion that stretches your muscles, rather than holding a set position. If you've ever seen someone doing lunges or kicks to warm up before a workout, that was dynamic stretching.
Each type of stretching is important in different situations. Dynamic stretching, with its physical movement, helps to warm up your muscles before exercise. Static stretching, meanwhile, is most often done after exercise, to help prevent injury.
Regardless of which type you're doing, developing a stretching routine offers a range of benefits to your life.
By increasing your flexibility and range of motion, you're able to move more freely throughout your day. Whether it's reaching for the top shelf in the kitchen or simply climbing the stairs, you'll experience less discomfort in regular activities. While it's common to experience reduced mobility as we grow older, a regular stretching routine can help to postpone that and keep your muscles flexible for longer.
Stretching can help to increase blood flow to your muscles, which improves your circulation. Better circulation, in addition to being an important part of your overall health, can help you recover more quickly after exercise and lessen the soreness you might otherwise feel in the hours and days following a hard workout.
When you exercise without properly warming up, you're putting yourself at a greater risk of straining a muscle. Dynamic stretching can help to loosen and warm up your muscles, reducing the risk of tearing something during your workout.
If you have tight muscles on one side of your body, you often compensate for the imbalance by changing how you sit or walk. Stretching helps to loosen up tight muscles that might be causing bad posture, everywhere from your calves to your neck.
When you get stressed, you tend to tense your muscles—an evolutionary artefact from a time when stress meant a predator was nearby, and you needed to prepare to run. In today's world, where you don't need to fight off your stressors physically, this tension simply builds up over time, especially in your neck and shoulders. By regularly stretching these areas, you can help relieve the tension you feel both mentally and physically.
Ready to take advantage of the benefits of stretching for yourself? When you're beginning a stretching routine, it's important to take it slow. Try to do too much too soon, and you risk injuring yourself.
Begin with five minutes of stretching every day. If you're exercising, try to stretch after your workout, while your muscles are still warm. On days when you aren't exercising, warm up your muscles with a short walk or jog beforehand to make stretching easier. As you develop a routine, you'll get more familiar with your body and know what's comfortable. You'll be able to identify when a muscle feels particularly tight on a certain day, and you'll know to pay extra attention to certain areas of your body.
Whether you're doing the splits or can't yet reach your toes, stretching offers benefits for people at every level of flexibility and physical health. Get started with just five minutes today, and reap the rewards for years to come.
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