Growing up I was always fascinated with martial arts. To see someone doing a full split, while round housing his or her opponent seemed super human to me as a kid. And while I’ll admit to many hours of stretching, I never quite got flexible enough to imitate my favorite martial arts hero’s. But one thing I did benefit from was the improved muscle functionality of long, smooth muscles.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been told, “make sure you stretch before” running, working, out, swimming, lifting weights, or just about any other physical activity. So I was curious to finally investigate the scientific reasons for this wives tale and get to the bottom of why it’s important to limber up before a workout.
Benefits of Stretching
Increase Blood Circulation
Stretching before a workout is like starting your car in the winter, you don’t just start it up and get going. Instead, you let the car warm up and get the oil evenly distributed throughout the engine. Stretching is like that for your body as it helps to move blood through your body, get new blood to your muscles, and warm up your focus areas prior to a workout.
Have you ever seen a super buff guy who has so much muscle he can’t reach behind himself to wipe his own rear? Well most of that is due to the fact that people who lift weights don’t always stretch properly, causing their muscles to bind up, build up more muscle in smaller areas, and causing less flexibility.
Similar to flexibility, when you don’t stretch before a workout, your body doesn’t have the ability to distribute blood to the entire muscle, causing your workout to focus on areas that have ample blood supply. As a result, this gives your muscles a localized workout causing your muscles to be short and stunted.
Another great benefit of stretching is the stress relief that it provides when you are preparing for your next workout. Have you ever woken up with a crick in your neck? Got out of bed to feel your legs cramped up? Stretching helps to relieve built up stress by increasing blood flow to your body, lengthening your cramped muscles, and naturally relieving the tension in your body.
Pain is Bad
You know the saying, “no pain no gain”? Well that doesn’t apply to stretching. In fact, many people are under a false pretense when it comes to effective stretching. If you are stretching and feel pain, then it is advised to ease the stretch until you feel proper tension but it is not uncomfortable making sure you are not over extending your muscle length and causing damage before a workout.
For many people, stretching is a love/hate relationship and the results of not taking the time to warm up your body can have serious long term effects on your overall results and body. So next time you are getting ready for a quick run, hit the weights, or any other exercise program, make sure you work in the proper stretching time for your body to get prepared and ready. In the long run, those who routinely stretch as part of their workout tend to have better flexibility, more movement range, stronger overall muscle groups and better workouts.