Why is stretching important?
Stretching is important for mobility and flexibility and muscle repair. It has an impact on your every-day range of movement, for example bending, twisting and reaching.
Getting into the habit of stretching after exercise is helpful as regular stretching helps increase flexibility, making muscles more supple. It is important to note that flexibility from regular stretching gradually disappears once you stop stretching. This can happen in as little as four weeks.
When should I stretch?
Most advice is to stretch after exercise rather than before it.
Warming up before exercise is important, but stretching muscles from ‘cold’ (particularly holding them in a stretched position) can be harmful. Warming up involves light aerobic movement and should last around 10 minutes at the start of your exercise. Warm muscles are less stiff and work more efficiently. Increased blood flow to your muscles enables more oxygen to reach the muscles and produce energy. The warm up also activates the nerve signals to your muscles, which results in faster reaction times which is important for balance.
What sort of stretching should I do?
There are a number of different stretching techniques. The most common are:
Static stretching: stretching a muscle to the point of mild discomfort and holding that position, typically for at least 20 seconds or longer. These are the stretches most commonly done after exercise.
Dynamic stretching: performing gentle repetitive movements, where there is a gradual increase in the range of motion of the movement. These stretches remain within the normal range of motion. Pilates is an example of dynamic stretching.
How long to stretch for
Holding a stretch for 20 seconds is the most common advice. If you feel stiffness in the muscle, you may want to do this twice and you should notice that the second stretch is easier than the first. A post-exercise stretch will slow down your breathing and heart rate, and bring the mind and body back to a resting state.
Make sure that you always stretch the major muscles in the body from the feet to the head.
Watch our video on stretches to do after any exercise programme
Some other stretches
Stretches for tight hips
Stretching your feet