It’s well-established that stretching your muscles offers an efficient way to maintain or improve your flexibility. If you participate in sports, work out regularly or simply want to remain in good physical shape, a stretching program offers many advantages. But your stretching plan may not provide the maximum benefit, and it can even be counterproductive if you do the wrong types of stretches at the wrong times.
Stretching Helps Your Fitness Program
Stretching can improve the range of motion in your joints, which in turn helps you athletically -- by helping you take a tennis racket farther back before you unleash a forehand, for example. An improved range of motion can also help you exercise more efficiently, such as allowing you to execute a deeper knee bend when you do squats. Stretching also sends more blood to your muscles to help prepare them for an exercise session, and they may reduce your injury risk as well. Post-exercise stretching may help you avoid or lessen muscle soreness after your workout.
Stretching Makes Daily Life Easier
Just as stretching can improve your athletic movements, increasing your range of motion via a stretching routine can make daily tasks such as vacuuming your floors or stacking dishes in a high cupboard easier. Additionally, stretching your torso can help improve your posture, while stretching in general helps relieve the stress you feel from tight muscles. Stretching your hamstrings and hip-area muscles can help you reduce or eliminate lower back pain by lessening the pressure of tight muscles on your spine.
Stretching Can Reduce Performance
Performing stretches -- particularly static stretches, in which you maintain your position for 15 to 30 seconds -- can inhibit your muscular performance if you perform the stretches within about an hour before a strength workout or athletic event, says ExRx.net. Stretching cold muscles at any time can also result in an injury. If you’re a runner, you may also be at a disadvantage if you stretch too frequently because excessive flexibility can make you a less efficient runner, according to ExRx.net.
The Right Stretch at the Right Time
Stretching has few disadvantages, as long as you warm up before stretching with five to 10 minutes of light cardio activity, and you perform the correct stretch for your task. To perform a strength-training workout, for example, warm up first, and then do dynamic stretches, in which you move your muscles smoothly through their full range of motion, without pausing. Perform static stretches after you work out, when your muscles are warm.