When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you do? Probably check your phone, drink some water, and then do a big stretch.
Stretching is what we do to prepare for something or cool down from something. It can feel great, point out areas that may be a little tight and need some attention, or both.
It’s also one of the most recommended preparation techniques for any type of workout (and often, the most overlooked).
If you’re not sure if you need to stretch or what the proper technique for stretching is, you’re in good company.
Let’s see what stretching can do for you and your body, and how you can do it well.
Before we tell you the how, let’s look at the why.
There are quite a few benefits to stretching. Some seem pretty expected, while some may surprise you. Let’s take a look at all of the good things stretching can do for you.
Many of us suffer from poor posture. Whether you slump your shoulders over or put pressure on strange parts of your feet, poor posture can take a toll on your body.
Stretching out your muscles can greatly improve your posture by lengthening and strengthening the muscles that hold you upright. It can also relieve tension from the muscles that you may strain by having poor posture.
Increases Flexibility and Range of Motion
When you think of stretching, you probably think about the flexibility aspect of it immediately.
We’re not just talking about getting into doing the splits or any crazy gymnastics moves, we’re just talking about general flexibility and range of motion.
Flexibility is something that many of us take for granted. It’s what allows you to move about freely, bend over to pick something up or reach up to grab things.
As we age, our flexibility decreases and it becomes harder to move around. By stretching early in life, we can increase the amount of time we are able to move our muscles freely.
Calms the Mind and Reduces Stress
Stretching is good for not only your physical health but also your mental health as well.
Many people overlook the physical toll that mental health problems take out on the body. Anxiety causes muscle tension, knots, even nausea and shaking.
When you stretch you tap into your body and out of your mind. This has been proven to reduce anxiety and stress.
It also gives you a chance to breathe more deeply and slow down your heart rate, two things that get out of whack when you have anxiety or stress.
Decreases Tension Headaches
Fun fact: headaches are actually frequently caused by tense muscles in your neck and tension in your scalp.
This tension even leads down the spine, causing an ache that goes past just your traditional headache.
When you stretch these muscles out, you take out the tension. This reduces the chances that you’ll get a tension headache.
Types of Stretches
If all of those benefits sound awesome to you, let’s get you the info you need to try them out in no time.
First, we need to go over a few of the different types of stretching you can do and when it’s a good idea to do them.
Dynamic stretches are stretches that you do while moving. These are typically performed before exercise or in the morning to get the blood flowing and gently increase your heart rate.
They also literally warm you up, preparing you for the activity that lies ahead.
Static stretches are done by getting your muscle to a good stretch and holding it for 10-30 seconds. This should feel like a light pull, but should not be uncomfortable to hold.
These stretches are most helpful after a workout or before bed.
Lastly, we have micro stretching.
Micro stretching is done by massage to target muscle fibers and break them apart, relaxing them.
The act of massage physically manipulates the muscle tissue by using an outside force on a smaller level, inducing relaxation.
It’s not enough to just crank out some stretches all willy-nilly.
You have to know the correct technique to use for each type of stretch to make sure you don’t cause any damage to your muscles and ligaments.
Luckily, it’s fairly easy to get these stretches right if you’re patient and don’t push yourself too hard.
When it comes to dynamic stretching, the key is control.
Though you will be moving your body around, you want to make sure that you are in control of your muscles as you do these.
Let’s go through the technique behind some popular dynamic stretches.
For the torso twist, you want to start standing straight up. From there you can either hold your arms out in a “T” shape or place them comfortably on your hips.
Keeping your hips in place, slowly twist your upper body from side to side, loosening up tight ab muscles. Make sure not to twist around too fast or too far, as that could cause damage.
Stand on one foot, placing your hands on your hips for balance.
Swing the free leg forward and backward gently, loosening up the hip flexors that need to be free for any sort of leg movement.
Don’t swing your leg back and forth too intensely or you risk damaging those ligaments in your hip.
For static stretching, the trick to keeping it safe and healthy is to not go too far. Remember, static stretches should still be comfortable.
If you’re feeling too much tightness or any pain, back off.
Hamstring or Quadriceps Stretch
These two are best done together since they stretch out opposing muscles.
For the hamstring stretch, stand on one foot. Lift your knee up toward your chest and hold it there for a few seconds. Your knee will probably not touch your torso, and you shouldn’t force it to.
For a quadriceps stretch, stay standing on one foot. This time kick your leg back, bringing your foot toward your backside. Use both hands to hold it in place. Again, don’t pull it further than it wants to go and try to stay standing straight up.
For microstretching or massaging your muscles, the question is more of a where you should do it than a how you should do it.
If you use your thumbs, gently pull or make circles around the sore muscles you can reach.
If you are using either vibrational therapy or a massage gun, you need to be more careful of where you use it.
Though it provides a lot of great muscle relaxation, percussive therapy can be pretty intense. You should never use it on your joints or ligaments and certainly not on your neck.
If your muscles feel too sore, lower the power or speed to reduce pain.
Stretching, When Done Correctly, Can Be Very Beneficial
No matter who you are, stretching can be helpful to everyone. All that you have to do is make sure you don’t push yourself too hard and you, too, can reap the benefits of a good stretch.