I am always surprised by the number of people I speak to at gyms and sports clubs who say that they never really bother with stretching. When I venture the question as to why this is the case, the usual answers are either that they don’t have the time for stretching, they don’t know how to stretch effectively, or that they don’t feel it is necessary. While confessing a lack of awareness of stretching techniques is excusable, not making the time to properly warm up before and to cool down after exercise is not.
At every gym there should always be staff and trainers on hand to show you the best ways to stretch in order to make the most of your work out. If there are not, then you should consider whether or not you belong to the right place – it is that important. Try reading some blogs such as Charles Poliquin’s or http://www.danakenheadfitness.com/ – qualified personal trainers that put great emphasis on warm ups, stretching and flexibility.
Simply put, stretching should not be seen as an irritating chore which eats into valuable exercise time or delays you getting into the shower after a hard work out. Stretching is an essential part of any work out, and you ignore it at your own peril. Here’s why:
- Reduces aches and muscle fatigue
We all know the deep aching feeling that sneaks up on us one or two days after vigorous exercise. Stretching offsets this feeling by reducing the spasms induced by muscle contractions after exercise, thus shortening your recovery time and allowing you to exercise more regularly, for longer sessions. For some lucky people, these aches diminish naturally over time as your body becomes accustomed to more exercise – but this is no excuse to ignore warming up and cooling down properly.
- Prevent sports injuries
Lack of stretching is a common cause of exercise related injuries. This is normally due to your having failed to warm up your muscles properly in preparation for exercise. Thus it is possible for the same athlete to run a marathon without undue strain after suitable preparation, only to pull a calf muscle during a short sprint for the bus because they hadn’t warmed up!
- Increases your performance.
Regular stretching improves your muscle strength and gives you greater range of movement over time. This enables your movements to become more efficient and powerful when engaging in sports such as running, swimming and jumping, compared to athletes who ignore stretching.
- Promotes healthy joints.
If you skip your cool down stretches after exercise, the natural reaction of your muscles is to tighten up around your joints as your body cools down. Not only does this process make you more susceptible to short term injury, but it also contributes to long term damage of the cartilage inside your joints. This in turn leads to a restriction of movement and reduced sports performance, as well as potentially exacerbating conditions such as arthritis.
A comprehensive warm up routine does not have to take more than a couple of minutes prior to exercise, and works wonders in getting your body both mentally and physically prepared for a work out. Cooling down afterwards allows your heart rate to normalize quickly and is the most effective way of ensuring long term muscle health and increased sports performance.