The importance of stretching is often underestimated in the process of increasing the fitness level of your body. Working out (with or without weights) and cardio training (e.g. running or cycling) are in focus of most people who start to exercise. However, stretching should play an almost equally important role in your weekly workout routine. Your body can literally feel your stretching efforts and pays you back depending on your activity level. If you are not doing it already, this article supports to set up a stretching routine as beginner.
Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
Static stretching is a technique where you hold a certain position statically for several seconds. In practice, you should aim to hold your stretch for about 20-40 seconds. You can repeat the sames stretch for 2-3 times to loosen up you muscles even more. For the static stretch it is important to stay in comfortable position without pain (“normal” stretching pain is good though).
Dynamic stretching is a technique where you use active body movements to reach the limits of your range of motion. This type of stretching is a bit more advanced as it requires some basic knowledge of what kind of movements your body can handle.
There is much research out there analyzing which stretching technique is better or worse. If you are a stretching beginner, my advice is to get going with your first stretches and listen to your body how well each stretching type feels.
Relevance of stretching for your fitness
Besides your strength or cardio workout, stretching should play an equally important role in your fitness program. The mobility and flexibility of your body is the backbone of your fitness level. Here are 5 benefits that come along with stretching:
- Increased flexibility of muscles
- Increased range of motion
- Improved posture
- Prevention from injuries
- Reduction of muscle pain
Even if fitness is not top priority, stretching is beneficial for your overall health. To give an example, sitting at work all day long has usually a negative influence on your body’s flexibility due to the low level of activity. In that situation a frequent stretching routine will help to counteract the muscles’ tightening process and prevent you from typical “office” injuries such as lower back pain. There are also various exercises that you can perform in the office to stay active during the day.
My advice to get going
Having played sports on a semi-professional level, I have experienced various effects stretching can have on a body in situations such as preseason (high intensity, muscle growth), peak season (high fitness, injury prevention) and rehabilitation after injuries (low intensity, focus on healing). Independent of the situation, it has been interesting to see how stretching can affect your body positively.
Here is my advice, which you can integrate into your stretching routine if you are a beginner:
- First and foremost, stretch whenever you work out. Whether you go running, do cycling or do strength training, always integrate a stretching session into your workout.
- Second, I also recommend integrating a 10min stretching session on a regular basis. If a daily execution seems too much for you to handle, start with stretching at least 3 times per week. It is important to have a structured routine that you are able to fulfill. Similar to muscle growth, it requires a constant stimulus in order for your muscle to react.
- Third, start with some basic stretching exercises. It is important to generate a ground knowledge of stretching exercises and identify 4-5 exercises which you feel comfortable in doing. Focus on major muscles such as upper legs, calves, shoulders and back. Once you have defined your basic setup, pursue the same exercises over and over again. As stated above, your muscles need this constant stimulus in order to react.
- Fourth, be patient. Transforming your body takes time, no matter whether you want to grow or stretch your muscles. Nonetheless, if you do stretch on a daily basis, I am convinced that it does not take long until you see first results.
Your personal 30-day challenge
After a surgery almost a decade ago, I was not able to perform any kind of workout for several months. However, in order to do something with my body, I started a stretching challenge for myself. Every evening when getting ready for bed, I lifted one of my legs and placed it on the sink in front of me (both legs straight in a 90° angle to each other. One leg standing on the floor, the other leg laying on the sink). From this position, I moved my upper body forward and tried to reach my knee with my forehead. While this seemed to be impossible when I started, I touched my knee with my head only some weeks into practice.
I hereby challenge you to do the same. Perform the above mentioned exercise every day for the next 30 days and see how far down you will get with your head. Here is what I expect you to experience during the upcoming weeks.
- Struggle with motivation & discipline
- You will most likely struggle to keep up with your schedule after the first couple of days. This is typical when starting a new routine. However, you need to push through and keep going.
- Increased mobility in your hips & legs
- I am quite certain that you will see some improvements towards the end of your 30 days challenge.
- Motivation boost for more stretching
- If you pull through the 30 days and see improvements, I would not be surprised, if you will see a boost in motivation with regard to further stretching exercises.
Stretching is important, no matter what
Long story short: Stretching is important no matter whether you are already working out or not. In my perspective, a well-designed stretching routine simply does belong into our weekly schedules as it only comes with benefits for our body.
With regard to the 30-day challenge, I am curious to see how you do. Therefore, please feel free to share some stories of your stretching challenge in the comments below.