It’s no stretch of the imagination to know that stretching is often the most overlooked and undervalued part of our functional fitness routine. Be honest: Do you stretch regularly? I’m talking about any time of day…before or after workouts, before going to bed, or first thing in the morning? And while that quick stretch before we roll out of bed in the am does count to a certain degree, it’s not enough to keep our muscles strong, flexible, and healthy. Stretching is something we should all make part of our daily routine.
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Why Stretching is Important: The Benefits
So why is stretching so dang important? Lots of reasons! Adopting a good stretching routine can have tons of physical and emotional benefits.
- decreased stress levels (sign me up!)
- decreased pain and stiffness
- decreased risk of injury
- improvement in blood flow and circulation
- increased flexibility and range of motion
- help minimize wear and tear on our joints, which is essential to aging gracefully.
Stretching doesn’t have to be just one more thing you begrudgingly add to your daily to-do list because I know that list well, and I know how long it can get. Instead, dedicating just a few minutes each day to stretching it out can make all the difference in how you feel and help with recovery time between workouts. Before I start any gym session, I ALWAYS stretch. It doesn’t have to take long, just a couple minutes will do the trick, but I can tell you from my personal experience that those few minutes stretching before hitting the weights makes all the difference.
Types of Stretching: Dynamic vs. Static Stretching
- Dynamic Stretching: When you think of dynamic, think of movement. Dynamic stretches are a type of stretching that prepares your muscles for performance so you can complete moves in a safe manner, and these are often the types of stretches you would do prior to a workout session. Dynamic stretches can help improve your speed, agility, and acceleration, and they are key for those who are wanting to improve overall athletic ability. Things like walking lunges to get warmed up prior to leg day would be an example of a dynamic stretch. You’re warming up the muscles dynamically that you’re going to be focusing on for that day’s workout.
- Static Stretching: Static Stretches are great for post-workout routines. Otherwise referred to as a “cool down,” static stretching helps your body begin the recovery progress and prevents injury. These types of stretches are usually performed in a still or static position, either lying, sitting, or standing, and you hold the stretch for about 45 seconds. Things like a hamstring stretch or quad stretch are prime examples of a static stretch you’d perform after leg day. Feeling the stretch in the muscles that you just spent time working will help with the recovery process.
Roll it Out: Myofascial Release
Sounds like a mouthful, but really, this is just rolling out! “Myo,” meaning muscle, and “fascia” is the layer on the outside of the muscle. We all know what “release” means. The quick anatomy lesson of it is that fascia is densely woven connective tissue that covers and joins together groups of muscles (myo), like your quads, for example. It supports these muscle groups and their surrounding bones, keeping them stable and allowing the muscle groups to pull in the correct direction. The fascia is SUPER important, yet we rarely give it the attention it deserves! It’s for this reason and so many others that stretching and rolling are so important to your overall athletic/physical health.
If you’ve never used a foam roller or a massage ball, then you’re in for a deliciously painful treat! The process of myofascial release, or rolling out, is to apply pressure to a specific muscle group and hold that pressure for about 30 seconds. This relieves tension within the muscles to allow for better recovery. It can be painful at first, but I promise, the benefits are so worth it! Click here for my favorite massage ball (under $20) and here for my favorite foam roller.
If you’re new to stretching, don’t let it overwhelm you. It only takes a few minutes, but I guarantee you’ll start to feel and notice a difference almost immediately! You can check out some more of my favorite go-to stretches here. What are some of your favorite go-to stretches?
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