The why, who, when and where’s of stretching

We all know that lovely feeling as we stretch our arms overhead with a big yawn shortly after waking up… Stretching is a great thing for body and mind.

Why should I stretch?

Stretching increases flexibility and the range of motion of our joints meaning they can move more freely (and hopefully without the cracks and creaks). This helps with both your workouts and with general day-to-day life activities (think bending down to tie your shoelaces). Having a good old stretch also benefits your posture – when our muscles are tight, we tend to hunch over – stretching releases that tightness, and enables us to sit or stand more upright. Having a good posture reduces the risks of aches and pains too, so it’s a win-win!

Earlier, I said stretching was great for body and mind – we’ve covered some of the benefits of the body, now for the mind… Stress relief. Stretching relaxes tense, tight muscles, symptoms which often accompany stress.

Who should stretch?

This is a nice easy one… Everybody!

Everyone should include some sort of stretching regime into their lives (as much as they are able). The smallest amount of stretching can have huge effects on your body. Many people in the gym (from my experience – mainly men that lift heavy) don’t see the point in stretching and have actually commented that they feel it will be detrimental to their “gains”. In fact, stretching could improve their performance by decreasing their recovery time, increasing their range of movement which can lead to increased muscle strength and as the ‘Journal of Applied Physiology’ states, stretching can actually enhance muscle growth.

Stretching has the potential to increase muscle mass by 318% – Men’s Health

When should I stretch?

This is a bit of a tricky one to provide a simple answer for, in truth… It depends! It depends on what activities you have planned in the day, what you have already done in that day, and how you stretch.

A great way to start your day (after having that all important glass of water) is to complete a little stretch routine. It doesn’t have to be long or complicated, but it will get the blood flowing and relieve any tightness that has built up in your body as you slept (most of us have suffered the ill-effects of “sleeping funny” waking up with a stiff neck). In the same vein, it’s good to stretch after you’ve been in the same position for any period of time, our body has the tendency to seize up a bit, in particular, our hip flexors become tight, our glutes become lazy and our posture poor, although just getting up out of our seats and moving around helps reduce this, stretching makes you feel even better.

Before exercise: We’ve all heard of warming up our body in preparation for exercise, you may be surprised to know that science has proven that one of the best ways to do this is to stretch. Dynamic stretching is the type of stretching that is most beneficial pre-workout. It involves moving your body through ranges of motion in preparation for the activities/exercises ahead, generally mimicking the planned workout (if you are going for a run, you may lightly jog on the spot or perform controlled “high knees”).

After exercise: After exercise is usually the time people expect to have to stretch (or at least know that they should – whether they do or not is a different matter). Static stretching is the type of stretching that provides the most benefit in this scenario and the type we should be utilizing post-workout. Static stretches are the ‘traditional’ stretches, the ones where you hold your body in a [potentially awkward but not painful] position for a period of time (usually between 10 and 30 seconds). This type of stretching elongates the muscle fibres, increases flexibility and reduces recovery time.

Have you ever thought of stretching before going to bed? A pre-sleep stretching routine can really benefit your sleep quality and could help ease you into a nice calm, relaxed state enabling you to fall asleep more quickly.

Simply, I think you should stretch whenever you can, you just have to choose the best way to do it.

Where should I stretch?

Where on your body? Or whereas in location? Whichever the question, the answer is everywhere.

On the body:

When warming up, focus on the movements you are about to perform during the main part of the workout and make sure you use dynamic stretches. There’s no harm in stretching your whole body in this way pre-workout.
Post-workout, ensure you pay particular attention to the muscles that you have just worked but again, there is no harm in stretching your whole body.

If you’re feeling stiff or tight in a particular area then focus on stretching the bit that is feeling uncomfortable. If you’ve been sat down for hours on end, stretching your hip flexors, shoulders and back will probably provide the most benefit and relief, otherwise, stretch everywhere.

Location, location, location:

Anywhere! Honestly, there are ways and means of stretching (discretely if necessary) wherever you are:

  • First thing in the morning? Stretch while you’re still in bed!
  • Getting ready for the day? Stretch while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or while you’re brushing your teeth!
  • At the office? Have a break in the coffee room or stretch at your desk
  • At the gym? Erm…stretch at the gym…there’s always a place for that!
  • Getting late? Stretch while you’re winding down in front of the TV

Another great thing about stretching is that you don’t need any equipment and barely any space to do it. Having said that however, sometimes props can come in useful to really increase that stretch, use whatever you have at your disposal. Walls are great for chest and calf stretches, chairs are fantastic for glute stretches and for helping you keep your balance for some leg stretches, even towels and scarves can come in useful for helping you stretch out your hamstrings.