How many times have you finished a strenuous hour on the treadmill, in the weight room, or on the basketball court, and gone straight to the locker-room without taking the time to stretch out your tired muscles? If the answer is more times than you can remember, you’re not alone.
For most people—myself included—stretching is a bit of chore. It’s often the last thing you want to spend time doing after exhausting yourself in the gym. After finishing your last set of reps, or hitting your last jump shot, it’s natural to want to head home for some much-deserved rest. A post-workout stretching session—no matter how brief—just prolongs the agony. And really (as we often tell ourselves) what can 10 minutes of stretching do to help you after an hour of intense exercise?
Well, quite a lot actually.
10 minutes of stretching—both before and after an intense workout—has many benefits. Benefits that not only help you recover from the effort you’ve exerted in the weight-room, and on the basketball court, but also help improve your performance the next time around.
Firstly, (and this is the benefit most people are familiar with) stretching can help improve your flexibility, and therefore the ability for your joints and muscles to move through their full range of motion. And the more flexible you are, the better equipped your body will be to prevent injuries.
If you play a game like basketball, or even if you’re just a casual runner, it’s essential that your joints move through their full range of motion so that you don’t overload your tendons and cause them unnecessary trauma. For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, you put yourself at risk of tendinitis if your Achilles tendon—a tendon that all basketball players should be concerned about (just ask Kobe)—lacks flexibility and prevents your foot moving through it’s full range of motion. (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stretching/HQ01447)
When you improve the range of motion in your muscles and joints by stretching, you also improve your overall muscular coordination. And it goes without saying that when you’re more coordinated, you have better overall balance and can work more effectively and explosively in the gym, and on the basketball court. And although it’s something that we rarely want to think about, stretching for improved muscular coordination is very important as we age. It can help prevent falls and the injuries that could result from them.
Stretching can also reduce tension in your muscles, particularly in the dreaded lower back, which can help you improve you posture—key in preventing long-term injuries—and make your next session in the gym a lot less painful. Heavy lifting can put a lot of pressure on your back, so stretching is essential. Stretching your lower back on a foam-roller is great, and stretching your hamstrings, quadriceps and hip-flexors can indirectly reduce tension in your back by lessening the pressure that you place on your upper body.
With less tension and pain in your muscles you’re far more likely to want to return to the gym and give it your maximum effort—more likely than you would be if you were walking around like a robot the day after your workout. But as well as reducing the unpleasant after effects of a strenuous gym session, stretching can actually help boost your energy levels. Stretching does this by increasing the amount of oxygen being brought to your muscles and bettering your circulation. Muscles deprived of oxygen are tight and tense, while muscles with a good supply of oxygen are loose and ready to work.
Stretching may be tedious, boring, and may feel unnecessarily time-consuming, especially after an already time-consuming workout. But stretching should be viewed as an immensely valuable part of a complete exercise regimen. Stretching aids with muscle coordination, flexibility, range of motion, good circulation; and can decrease tension, pain, and the risk of injury.
It’s well worth the additional 10 minutes.