Every living thing with a mobile body stretches. Whether it’s that first morning stretch after a good night’s sleep, or before/after exercise, it’s something we all do but most people don’t question. So why does stretching feel good? Why do we stretch at all? Well, turns out there’s a more scientific reason than the fact that it just feels nice. In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is an essential part of not only exercise, but everyday human life.
One of the main agreed benefits of stretching among experts is surprisingly not exercise-related, it’s actually for stress relief. A lot of our mental stress presents itself in our body, and too much stress can cause tension and tightness in our muscles. Stretching in times of stress helps the body become back in tune with itself, and forces your mind to slow and calm down for a short period of time. Besides stress relief, though, it is beneficial for better flexibility, better posture, injury prevention, exercise prep, and better overall sleep.
Stretching also has another small benefit you may be unaware of, related to metabolism. But how? Does stretching burn fat? Does stretching burn calories? The answer is yes, but not very many. There is something called ‘metabolic stretching’ which does burn calories if you do it for long periods of time, but don’t expect huge weight loss results from only doing this.
When to Stretch
There’s a lot of reasons to stretch, but it’s helpful to have some goals before you formally do it. You might be wanting some leg stretches before a workout, or maybe you read about stretches for period cramps, or maybe you just want some stretches for sore legs after your workout. Whatever your stretch goals are, it’s important to know when to stretch and what. If you’re wondering how often you should stretch and how long to hold a stretch, you’re not alone, these are common beginner questions.
Before getting into specific types of stretches, it’s important to define the different kinds so you know when to use them. Before your workout, you should focus on dynamic stretching, which is the kind that involves full body movement combined with focal areas. The purpose of dynamic stretching is to increase blood flow and prepare your body for exercise. After your workout is when you should do static stretching, which is when you stretch certain body parts in place. The purpose of static stretching is to lengthen the muscles after the workout, thus relieving tension, which is vital for muscle growth. Many people wonder, how long should you hold a static stretch? The most agreed upon answer is anywhere from 15-30 seconds. Discomfort is normal if sore, but if the stretching causes pain, you should stop to avoid any further injury.
Within static stretching, there’s active isolated stretching and passive stretching. Passive stretching involves an outside force applied to the limb, like a partner, band, or even other body part, whereas active stretching is when you are purposefully and actively contracting the muscle.
If you are doing any upper body workout, you should be doing arm stretches, bicep stretches, chest stretches, and back stretches before and after. If you are doing a lower body workout, you should be stretching your hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves. Stretching the knee area is also important, though, not many people know that you can’t actually stretch the knee itself, because it’s a joint and not a muscle. However, stretching the muscles around it is effective in relieving tension. If you have knee pain after cycling, for example, there are many dynamic and static stretches you can do to treat and prevent the pain.
Whether you’re looking for specified stretches like shoulder mobility stretches, or wondering how to stretch biceps, or how to stretch the shin due to horrid shin splints, here are some common ones you can do anywhere.
- Cobra stretch – stretches the spine and can help strengthen the muscles that support your head and neck.
- Couch stretch – relieves tightness and improves mobility in your back, core, and hips.
- Figure 4 stretch – stretches the outer hips & buttocks.
- Frog stretch – open and exercise the inner thigh muscles, groin, hip flexors, and rotators.
- Child pose stretch – helps to stretch your back and muscles around your hips.
- Shoulder pass-through – increases joint mobility while still engaging the surrounding muscles of the shoulder.
- Doorway/wall stretch – stretches chest, shoulders, and biceps.
- Seated shin stretch – targets the anterior tibialis muscle at the front of the leg, helps shin splints.