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Ever since you were a kid in physical education class, you’ve been told the benefits of stretching. However, if you’re like most people, you’ve probably totally glossed over it. Now that you’re in the gym and bodybuilding consistently, you can use the benefits of stretching even more. However, some of what you’ve learned haven’t necessarily been true. Read below to find out not only how stretching can help you, but how you should do it.
It’s possible that you think static stretching (reaching to a stretched position and holding it) should be done before any physical activity. This is only partially true. While there are many benefits of stretching (discussed below), you have to remember that your muscles are sort of like rubber bands.
Muscles are pliable and elastic. However, they get this way even more when they’re warm. If they’re cold, they can actually be very susceptible to injury. When a rubber band has been in the cold for too long, it gets hard and brittle. You can stretch it a little, but if you go too far, it snaps. Your muscles are the same way. Do too much static stretching (or try to push a stretch too far) while your muscles are cold, and you can injure yourself.
Instead, you should only stretch when you’re warm. Spend a few minutes jogging, skipping rope, walking, or some other light activity to get the blood pumping, elevate your core temperature, and warm up your muscles before attempting any kind of stretching. Prior to a workout, a dynamic warmup is an even better idea. Static stretching could then be performed at the end of your workout.
Now that you have an idea of how you should stretch and when, it’s time to understand why. One eclectic reason was discussed in a recent study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. It showed that 42 students who spent 30 minutes stretching were able to demonstrate improved balance on a stabilometer. This is because they were able to make better slight muscle adjustments due to increased coordination.
One of the biggest benefits of stretching is reducing the risk of getting hurt when done prior to a workout (especially a dynamic warmup). This is because stretching can increase blood flow to the muscles, improve pliability, and increase stamina.
There is also a study at the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine which suggests that stretching done prior to a workout can also almost switch the brain into “workout” mode, as so many people associate stretching with physical activity. Because of heightened CNS sensitivity, you have better control over muscular contraction. This could also possibly lead to a better mind-muscle connection.
Because of the aforementioned improved blood flow, stretching has been shown to greatly improve recovery and reduced soreness. This is because post-workout oxygen and nutrients are more easily able to be brought to muscles when they need it most. In fact, this is one of the biggest reasons why doing static stretching at the end of a workout is so often recommended.
One of the less thought about benefits of stretching is its ability to lower stress. It’s not at all uncommon for those experiencing heavy workloads or high anxiety to experience muscle tension through the neck, shoulders, and upper back. Incorporating regular stretching into your daily routine can not only release this tightness (and stress along with it), but help reduce the chances you’ll continue to hold tension through these muscles.
There is some evidence that stretching can actually help you build bigger muscles. In fact, John Parrillo often wrote about his theories regarding fascial stretching in the late 1990s through the early 2000s. According to Parrillo, while his stretching routines were quite extensive (including prior, during, and after lifting weights, as well as separate sessions), some of his trainees experienced as much as a 20% increase in muscle mass.
Whether or not the benefits of stretching actually can make your muscles bigger or help your brain realize it’s time to work out, it’s still something you should do, anyway. Properly done stretching can better your physical performance, reduce stress, improve recovery, and reduce soreness. Just be sure you’re doing it properly and not opening yourself up to possible injury.