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The Benefits of Stretching
Personally, I’ve always held a sort of strong vendetta against the act of stretching, and can think of no better comparison than a begrudging visit to the dentist. An inconvenient necessity that’s obviously good for one’s health, but kind of just a “blech” experience all around. Anyone else with me?
Then a couple of years ago, I was introduced to the fantastical world that is Hot Yoga and my admittedly naive and unfair views on stretching have since forever changed. I had morphed from a self-proclaimed “stretching hater” to a zen, yoga fangirl seemingly overnight! My body felt incredible – so much so, that I now believe everyone can benefit from an education in stretching, no matter where you’re starting from.
Four Benefits of Stretching
Increases energy levels
Okay so as I’d mentioned above, what initially converted me into a stretching fanatic was the way in which it made me feel – which, for lack of a better word, was AMAZING! I felt more relaxed, energized and overall a lot more positive! When our muscles are tense or strained, we tend to feel a bit more uncomfortable or lethargic within our own skin. Just a quick 5-10 minute stretch during your day (even when you’re watching tv – NO excuses!), can help loosen these muscles, thereby increasing the flow of oxygen throughout your system; giving your body AND mind a bit of a boost! Not to mention, even the smallest form of exercise can help to trigger those endorphins.
Promotes blood circulation
Stretching post-workout is very important for the recovery process of your muscles. Why? It will help increase blood flow to your working muscles, thereby preventing muscle soreness by increasing oxygen delivery.
I know, I know… way to state the obvious! Improved flexibility and range of motion is undoubtedly one of the more well-known benefits of stretching. However, despite its obviousness, this particular benefit is one of the most significant health-wise!
Increased range of motion can help prevent injury related to sport or physical activity; this is because your body won’t have to work as hard in order to perform certain motions or movements on a daily basis (it doesn’t even have to be exercise related).
Furthermore, stretching the muscles of your lower back, chest and shoulders will help lengthen and loosen the particular area crucial to back support, thereby improving your posture!!!
Okay so to counteract the lackluster, albeit necessary, point above… I thought I’d throw you a bit of a curveball! One of the more unknown, yet totally amazing, benefits of stretching? IT BURNS FAT! Yep, you’ve read that correctly! When performed under the correct conditions, utilizing specific techniques, stretching can actually help burn fat.
Now, is stretching a full-blown aerobic exercise that will leave you swimming in your own pool of sweat? No. You’re obviously not going to burn as much sweat stretching as you typically would in say, your weekly spin class – but it does help burn calories and fat.
So, how does one ensure that you burn fat – not to mention achieve all of the above benefits – while stretching? Well… let’s go over some of the basics, shall we?
Back to Basics – Stretching 101
If you’re going to stretch, you might as well do it right! Well, scratch that – you NEED to do it right. Because truth be told, if you don’t…. well you may just get yourself into a bit of trouble (it could lead to muscle damage and soreness). So to reap all of the benefits, below are a couple of things to keep in mind:
NO bouncing – This by FAR is the one tidbit you absolutely need to keep in mind! Do not bounce while stretching – these quick, jerky motions will cause tearing in your muscle fibers.
Warm up your muscles – Prior to stretching, you want to ensure that your muscles are a little bit warmed up. Try going for a five minute light walk or jog prior to stretching.
Hold each stretch – In order to ensure that you’re getting the maximum benefit from each stretch – make sure that you hold each stretch for at least 20-30 seconds.
Note: in terms of how often you should be stretching a week, essentially every single time you work out, or it can even be a part of your daily morning routine
Got it? Okay GOOD! Now onto the good stuff… the actual stretching itself! I’ve included just a few basic stretches to give you a bit of inspiration for your next stretch fest:
Stretching For Balance & Improved Range of Motion
Mountain Pose: Stand with your feet together. Reach up to the sky with your hands, so that they eventually meet extended above your head. This helps give your entire body a bit of a stretch. Take a few deep breaths and the release.
Downward dog: Begin your position on all fours, with your palms making contact with the ground. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart and your feet about hip-width apart. Once you’re comfortable, press your palms into the mat, curl your toes under, and lift your hips in the air and toward the ceiling; so that you are essentially in a 90-degree angle!
Bridge Pose: Lie on your back, with your hands by your side and your knees bent up toward the ceiling. The soles of your feet should be pressed against the mat. Once your comfortable, lift your hips up toward the ceiling, bringing your chest toward your chin (stretching your quads).
Hamstring Stretch: Lie on your back. Straighten one leg toward the ceiling, gently take your hands and ever so slightly, pull your straight leg toward your chest, keeping your opposite leg perpendicular to the floor.
Stretching to Build Muscle (and burn fat)
Eccentric Quasi-Isometrics (EQI’s): This particular technique ensures that you stretch your muscles whilst simultaneously building those same muscles. You essentially hold the bottom of an exercise for about 20-30 seconds with a light weight in order to help restore your muscles and elongate them so that they are back in their resting state.
There are a few different exercises to experiment with, but I found a couple super interesting ones HERE and HERE! This method of training will help you stretch, build muscle AND burn fat… it’s a win on ALL accounts if you ask me!
Health Fitness Revolution http://www.healthfitnessrevolution.com/top-10-health-benefits-of-stretching/