Stretching has many benefits including increased flexibiliy and range of motion, improved sports performance, injury prevention, preventing muscle soreness, improving posture and stress relief. We explain how and why these benefits of stretching are achieved.
Increased flexibility and range of motion
This is the most obvious benefit of regular stretching and usually the reason that people start a startching programme. However, reasons for stretching ususally go much deeper than this. For example, why do you want to increase your flexibility? Is it to improve your sporting performance, posture, or prevent injury?
Being flexible can help to prevent injuries. This can include acute injuries, such as a hamstring strain and overuse injuries such as IT band syndrome or plantar fasciitis. Stretching has been used in the warm-up process for many years. It is thought that having flexible muscles can prevent acute injuries by gently stretching the muscle through its range before exercise. Dynamic (active) stretches are now recommended for warm-ups, over the traditional static stretch.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) occurs 24-48 hours after exercise. It is thought to be due to microscopic tears in the muscle. Stretching before and after training is thought to minimise this damage.
In many cases of poor posture which has developed over time, muscle imbalances are to blame. A good example is the chest muscles becoming shortened in people who slouch over a computer for long periods. Stretching these muscles can help to improve posture.
Improving sporting performance
Many sports obviously require high levels of flexibility, for example athletics and gymnastics. But even athletes in sports such as Rugby, where flexibility is not immediately thought of as a key component, can improve their performance by becoming more flexible. In order to have healthy muscles, they must be flexible. This will help to prevent injuries as already discussed, but it will also allow you to develop strength through the full range of motion at the joint. This gives an advantage over someone who has a limited range.
Muscle tightness is often associated with stress - we tend to tighten up when stressed. For example the neck muscles. Stretching relaxes these muscles and you at the same time!