You’ve heard it said a million times: Before, after, and sometimes during class, instructors remind you to stretch out your muscles. Went to a seriously strenuous HIIT class last night? Stretching is the answer. Woke up with aches and pains? You guessed it: It’s time to stretch. Like many things in life — swimming after eating a big meal, for example — it’s something we’ve always been told without any further reasoning. We’re here to tell you that 1. stretching does your body wonders and 2. you should be doing it as often as possible (so, every day?).
Why You Need to Stretch
Sure, you won’t be able to master your splits without stretching out your legs on the daily. Proper stretching, however, does much more than simply loosen up your muscles and joints. Along with increased flexibility and joint range of motion, stretching improves overall physical function and prevents injuries. When our muscles are tight, it’s harder for us to perform certain physical activities, which is often why we experience muscle strain, fatigue, or worse, injury. Because of this tightness, your body automatically overcompensates for weaker muscle groups, ultimately causing painful injuries. Stretching is the one — and only — thing that can prevent your body from going into overdrive.
What Types of Stretches You Should Do
There are six main types of stretching: active, ballistic, dynamic, isometric, passive and static. Think of it this way: Yoga is a form of active stretching, while leg holds and splits are a type of passive stretching. Other stretches include:
- Isometric stretching calls for short, isolated movements (tensing muscles, for example).
- Ballistic stretching is when you bounce in or out of a stretch.
- Dynamic stretching requires slow, controlled movements (arm swings, for example).
- Static stretches are when you stretch a muscle past its furthest point and hold that position.
Some stretches — isometric, dynamic and ballistic, in particular — are best to incorporate in warm-up routines since they’ll get your body loose and limber. Static stretches are best when your body is already warm, which makes it ideal after workouts. Have some spare time while you’re lounging at home? Try active stretching, a.k.a. your go-to yoga poses.
How to Know If You’re Doing It Correctly
When it comes to stretching, it’s all about timing. Static stretches, in particular, should be held for at least 10 to 30 seconds to make them worthwhile. Dynamic stretches, while faster, should not feel rushed. Although it’s easy to overstretch, you’ll know that you’re doing your body more harm than good once the pain strikes. You should always feel a stretch, but it should still be comfortable and not painful. If stretching makes your body feel worse than when you initially started, it may be a sign to dial it back or simply, try a less intense stretch. Remember: Flexibility takes time and for some, it may be harder to achieve than others. Pushing your body past its limits won’t get you there; patience, practice and listening to your body will. In other words, your fitness goals start here.