There are a good many things related to exercise, fitness, and athletics that pretty much everyone knows to be true at this point. Getting quality rest, enough sleep, and balanced nutrition should all be relatively obvious… even if you’re not sure exactly what they might mean for you. Warm-ups and stretching are no exception.While we all know it’s good for us, busy schedules seem to “force” people to remove it from their workout to save themselves 15 minutes of their day.Over the next three articles, we’re going to examine warming up and stretching pre- and post-exercise: the benefits, the techniques, and how to individualize it. Starting with Part 1, let’s go over the top reasons why you should be doing it:
- It promotes blood flow to the muscle tissues.
When you train, blood flow is partially diverted to the main muscle groups being used to complete the exercise. This traffic control technique is one the body uses to prioritize nutrient delivery (e.g. Oxygen) to and waste removal (e.g. lactic acid) from to active muscle cells rather than waste it’s time helping out muscles not being used. Stimulating blood flow through foam rolling, static stretching, and dynamic warm-ups prior to beginning the workout only stands to improve your recovery from intense sets and reps within your training session. It also improves blood flow outside of workouts. Having this steady stream of nutrient delivery and waste removal throughout the day can aid in quicker recovery from hard training sessions as well as from long periods of sitting at work.
- It improve posture. Muscle imbalances can oftentimes lead to poor posture. For example, when someone prioritizes the Bench Press over Bent-Over Rows for a long period of time, anterior strength will out-duel posterior strength and the shoulder girdle will roll forward a little. This particular imbalance will have a negative impact on thoracic spine mobility and impede shoulder mobility. Stretching, combined with a balanced strength program, can assist the body in removing these imbalances.
- It helps reduce acute/ chronic pain and injury risk. Where there are flexibility imbalances, there is likelihood of pain and a higher risk of injury. Look at the body as a series of chains, with all links working together to build strength, power, and speed. When one link goes bad, the whole chain goes bad. When your calves, hamstrings, glutes, lumbar, and thoracic muscles are all working together in your posterior chain during a deadlift, they all need to be functioning properly. In other words, tight hamstrings or glutes can lead to lumbar pain. Additionally, a tight muscle belly is more likely to be torn or strained than a healthy pliable one. While stretching in and of itself hasn’t shown an appreciably lower risk of injury in studies, removing muscle imbalances has and flexibility is a big part of it.
- It increases range of motion. I’m going to take a step back for a second. Have you been assuming during this article that stretching increases muscle length? Most of you probably have and that’s OK. It’s a very common misconception. Your muscles are already as long as they’re going to be if you’re a grown adult. Without going into an insane (and frankly boring) amount of detail, your muscles have proprioceptors that initiate involuntary contraction or relaxation of the muscle… all in the name of protecting itself. Stretching helps to inhibit unwanted involuntary contractions, increasing the “lengths” that your muscle is willing to go to. This increased length improves range of motion in all movements that aren’t impeded by other issues such as joint structure.
- It helps you to relax. Touching a little on the point above, reducing tightness in the muscle helps you to relax in your downtime. If your muscles are always turned on, even laying on the couch can become a chore. Stretching might be uncomfortable in the moment (it’s supposed to be), but it can lead to long term comfort when done over a long period of time.
Check back in next week when we’ll discuss various techniques for gaining all of these benefits of stretching.