A common misconception is that stretching is only for runners, swimmers, or gymnasts. Actually, though, stretching is beneficial, if not necessary, for everyone, whether you consider yourself an athlete or not. Not only does it help with flexibility (duh) but it keeps your muscles stronger and healthier while maintaining a full range of motion.
“A lot of people don’t understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily,”
-David Nolan, physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital
Those people who don’t stretch tend to have tighter, shortened muscles which leads to easy injuries when going from rest to activity. Instead, regular stretching and keeping your muscles loose helps the muscles stay lean and flexible and, according to Nolan, when performing an activity it allows you to not “put too much force on the muscle itself.”
Flexibility takes time and effort. You can’t stretch today and expect to be a different person tomorrow. It will take weeks, even months, of regular stretching to reach where you should be, especially if you haven’t stretched in a good amount of time.
“It may have taken you many months to get tight muscles, so you’re not going to be perfectly flexible after one or two sessions. It takes weeks to months to get flexible, and you’ll have to continue working on it to maintain it.”
-physical therapist David Nolan of Massachusetts General Hospital
Luckily though, it is not necessary to stretch every muscle in your body every day. While you should hit each muscle group a few times a week, it’s the lower body that is most important.
“The areas critical for mobility are in your lower extremities: your calves, your hamstrings, your hip flexors in the pelvis and quadriceps in the front of the thigh.”
When to stretch is just as important as doing it at all. It used to be common knowledge that you NEED to stretch before exercise. It has since been learned that you really need to get a solid warm up on your muscles before stretching. A 5-10 minute light jog is all it takes to warm your legs up. Stretch for 30 seconds without bouncing. You shouldn’t feel any pain but you should feel a pull on the muscle.
End your workouts with a good stretching routine to cool down and keep your muscles lean and loose.