Any kind of stretch is good for your body, whether you do a triangle pose in yoga class, elongate your quads after a HIIT workout, or touch your toes while watching TV. As long as you move and bend on a regular basis, experts say you’ll see some pretty sweet benefits. To better understand just how it’s helping your body, of course, you’ll want to read up on the mechanics behind the recovery practice.
So, what does stretching do? A stretch is simply the act of lengthening or flexing your body to relieve tension in the muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments, says Austin Martinez, MS, CSCS, ATC, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and director of education at StretchLab. “I recommend people stretch every day,” he tells Bustle. “It doesn’t need to be a super long session, but even 10 minutes can make a huge difference in how you feel.”
Experts recommend such regular stretching because you’ll start to feel the effects if you don’t. You know how your hips start to feel tight after too many hours vegging out? Or the way your hamstrings feel tense after you go for a long run? When you’re physically active, your muscles tend to become shorter because they’re contracted for movement. But your muscles can also get shortened when you’re sitting at your desk for too many hours at a time or not engaging in proper postural alignment. Either way, that tightness wreaks havoc on your overall mobility, so you’ll have less range of motion.
While you can always benefit from a full-body stretch routine, Martinez recommends paying the most attention to the areas that feel tight and stretching them for 20 to 30 seconds. This might include doing a lunge with a side bend to stretch your obliques, lying on the ground and pulling an extended leg in for a hamstring stretch, or doing slow head rolls to work out a stiff neck.
If the move releases tension and loosens muscles, you’re on the right track. Besides feeling really great, keep scrolling to learn what stretching does to your body (and your overall health).
7 Benefits Of Stretching
1. It Loosens Stiff Muscles
One of the most immediate and noticeable benefits of stretching is how it relieves stiff muscles, something you might experience on a regular basis if you’ve been stuck in the same position for a while at work or after commuting in traffic.
Incorporating little stretch breaks into your day will help you move better, sit more comfortably, and think more clearly, says Kimberlee Morrison, a certified yoga teacher and founder of Love Revolution Yoga. That’s because stretching elongates your muscles, which they need after being shortened — otherwise, they’re more prone to being strained or damaged.
2. It Helps Prevent & Relieve Soreness
Stretching plays a key role in warding off workout-related stiffness — hence why it’s a staple element of a healthy fitness routine. Martinez recommends doing dynamic stretches before a workout, aka the kind that are moving and fluid, like lunges and twists. “These are often done as a warmup to prepare the body for activity,” he says, since they increase circulation, lube up the joints, and heighten sensory receptors — all of which get you ready to move.
Once you finish a workout, that’s when you’ll swoop in with the static stretches — the ones without movement. These include the classic toe touches and standing shoulder stretches, or any pose you hold for a while rather than move through. The goal is to hold each one for about 20 seconds, which Martinez says is just long enough to increase your range of motion, improve flexibility, and aid in post-exercise recovery.
3. It Helps Reduce The Risk Of Injury
Some studies have shown that stretching may help prevent injuries related to stiff muscles, too, which is something to keep in mind if you like to work out. “When our bodies are stiff they don't move effectively,” Morrison says. But stretching on a regular basis can improve flexibility, reduce tension in your body, and thus reduce the likelihood of a muscle strain or joint injury.
4. It Makes You Better At Sports
OK, stretching might not magically make you better at sports, but it can improve athletic performance, again by increasing your joint mobility as well as your all-important range of motion, Martinez says. Think about moving laterally while playing tennis, rowing a kayak, or pedaling a bike. All these motions will be much smoother when your muscles are loose and primed for movement.
5. It Improves Posture
Stretch on a regular basis and you can expect your posture to improve, says Lauren Arps, a professional trainer and certified yoga instructor. Stretching improves your body awareness, meaning you’ll be more innately perceptive of when you need to stand up straight and push your shoulders back. It also makes it easier to do so, which is a perk for anyone who has a slouching habit.
6. It Helps Clear Your Mind
A big stretch has a way of clearing the mind, says Jennifer McCamish, a Pilates instructor and founder of the fitness studio Shape Method. The reason? “Stretching brings oxygen to the brain and body, which can help wake you up and feel refreshed,” she tells Bustle, noting you only need a minimum of 10 minutes to reap these benefits.
7. It Improves Sleep
According to Sam Gach, a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and flexibility coach, stretching may improve your sleep due to the way it relaxes the muscles in the body. When you connect a stretch to a deep breath, the way you would in yoga, it can increase your relaxation even more. Move through a few stretches right before bed, and see if you catch more Zzzs.
The Best Time To Stretch
It doesn’t really matter when or where you stretch, as long as you do it — and make it a habit. So, whether you’re stretching first thing in the morning, in the mid-afternoon, or right before bed, stick with the routine and enjoy your increasingly limber self.
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Sam Gach, certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and flexibility coach