In the past decade or so, personal fitness has become a more and more talked about topic, whether it’s in the area of athletic achievements, personal health improvement, or even looking better. Along with the increase in fitness awareness, there has also been a massive growth in scientific knowledge and awareness about what it takes to actually become “fit”. However, there is one area that usually gets overlooked when it comes to sharing fitness tips on social media. This area is the importance of stretching.
Something I’ve grown to realize is that people who are looking to get into better shape either tend to focus on doing exercises and workouts that look like the most fun and intense way to do it, or they become intimidated by the extreme demonstrations they see (which can be found all over social media). While bench pressing a ton of weight and going for intense runs through the mountains are great things to do for a physically fit person, the actual process of becoming fit involves so much more. Among these added factors is stretching. While stretching isn’t as much fun as pumping iron it is an important aspect of maximizing your fitness potential, as well as your well-being. The following are the basic and most common types of stretching, and they are both very important if you want to get the most out of your training sessions, as well as increase your overall fitness.
Performing dynamic warmups is a form of stretching that allows your muscles to become active and more elastic before a workout. Doing this increases the muscles’ responsiveness and the potential for powerful movement, which translates to more potential work being done during your exercises, leading to better results. Getting the muscles primed for movement also decreases the risk of injury.
An example of what a dynamic warmup does could be a soccer ball that is filled with air. If the soccer ball has been sitting in a cold temperature, it will lose some inflation and become less responsive to bounces and kicks, as well as become more brittle. So what you need to do is warm it up a bit. Once it becomes warm the air inside expands and the ball is back to being fully inflated and ready for use. This is just like our muscles, they can also grow stiff from lack of circulation and use, so we need to “warm them up”.
Static stretching is different from dynamic stretching because it utilizes very little movement and is typically done at the end of a workout. It should become a normal part of every person’s cooldown, even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes. This form of stretching means holding a stretch for at least 15-20 seconds at the furthest extension so your muscles can be allowed to lengthen. The importance of stretching results in improved circulation and a loss of tension. Which both increase the muscles’ ability to regenerate muscle tissue. (So basically it recovers faster/better and doesn’t tighten up as much).
However, static stretching can be utilized apart from workout recovery as well. Simply by doing a few stretches throughout the day, a person can use static stretching to lengthen their muscles and tendons to increase their flexibility. This increase in flexibility can contribute to improved fitness all on its own, even without the workout beforehand.
Now you may ask yourself why increased flexibility is such an important part of physical well-being. The answer can be found in the definition of what flexibility actually is. According to the UCDAVIS HEALTH Sports Medicine Program, flexibility is “the ability of a joint or a series of joints to move through an unrestricted, pain-free range of motion.”. This means that in order for a person to go through any given range of motion, and perform any exercises, they must have proper flexibility if they want to do it properly as well as pain-free.
Apart from exercises, flexibility is essential in the aspect of pain-free living. Many times people suffer from an imbalance in posture and/or muscular imbalances.Often this can be traced back to a lack of flexibility somewhere in the kinetic chain of movement. This lack of range of motion means that other muscles have to pick up the slack, and this can lead to pain and muscle damage in those overworked regions.
So whether it is for the sake of maximizing your workout potential (Dynamic Stretching), or increased recovery and overall flexibility (Static Stretching), the importance of stretching should be utilized by every person who is looking to improve their physical well-being.
Article written by Joshua Dressler
I am a student at NAIT in the Personal Fitness Trainer Program. I have been an athlete my entire life playing numerous sports such as Basketball, Volleyball, Football, and Javelin. By dedicating myself to athletics I managed to compete at a Provincial level in each of these sports and planned to carry on competing at a post-secondary level.