If stretching is so important then why is it so hard to find someone in the gym who is actually doing it? You would think that because it is recommended for everyone that you wouldn’t be able to move in the gym without bumping into someone doing their stretches, right? Of course the reality is that doesn’t happen. So either the importance of stretching is has been blown out of proportion for centuries or a lot of us are missing out on an essential part of our fitness.
The most common analogy is that of a rubber band or a piece of Blu-Tac. Go and pick up either and try to stretch them straight away and you will find that both should snap. Try warming them up though and you will notice that they stretch far easier and they won’t snap. I’m sure you have heard before how this is just like our muscles. If you don’t want them to be at risk of damage then you need to stretch them properly before you workout.
But while this analogy helps us to visualise what is going on in our bodies, it doesn’t give credit to the extent of the benefits. Because effective stretching does far more than just set you up for the following exercise, it positively benefits many areas of our everyday lives. Regular stretching increases mobility and allows you to complete everyday tasks without that stiffness that you might typically experience.
As well as mobility, regular stretching is great for helping to develop flexibility. And it doesn’t matter whether you are addicted to cardio or just can’t give up the weights, we could all benefit from being as flexible as possible. All training places stress on your muscles in some form and the more flexible they are, the more easy it is for them to cope with that stress.
For a long time the focus in physiotherapy was to deal with injuries after they occurred and to incorporate effective stretching in that recovery. Today it is completely different. Preventing injuries from occurring is just as important as treating them once they have happened. And effective stretching , which helps those aspects of our training that I have mentioned, goes along way to making sure that avoidable injuries don’t happen regularly.
If we were to describe stretching before a workout as slightly neglected, then stretching after a workout has been completely forgotten. I’m sure that there are plenty of you who do cool down correctly and incorporate stretching into that but the unfortunate truth is that too many don’t.
The tendency is to try and find elements of our workouts that provide the most gains and then focus mostly on them. And that results in us doing the exercises that help to build muscle, while forgetting all the other things that have less visible benefits. That’s why training for flexibility or mobility isn’t as popular as building for strength. You don’t need to have overly visible muscles to be flexible and mobile but that doesn’t mean they aren’t as important.
The important thing to remember is that they help in everyday life too. Being able to complete tasks in the gym is great and we all feel amazing when we do, But what’s better is when you can still achieve that as well as training is such a way that allows everyday tasks to become easier too, especially as you get older.