Let’s improve the way we think about stretching. How often have we gone bicycling or taken time for a nice run, only to say at the end, “Oh I’m out of time,” and then skip stretching? It’s common. Why is it that we constantly research ways to gain strength faster or do cardio better, but we only look up stretches when we are almost injured? The reason is that we see stretches as extra, rather than an essential part of exercising.
Whether we do cardio today, strength, or both, we always need to stretch. So many muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries and syndromes are contributed to, if not outright caused by, limited flexibility. Ankle injuries, back pain, neck pain, even plantar fasciitis can all be caused by some joint or soft tissue not moving through its full range of motion. Injury causes people to lose fitness, play time, and quality of life. Stretching prevents injury.
What’s more, flexibility promotes many of the very things people train for. To achieve peak performance, we often need to utilize the full length of some muscle. This has obvious implications in throwing, hitting, and kicking activities. Along those same lines, shortened range of motion in certain joints can decrease our efficiency and slow us down for activities such as running and swimming. For those of us who have collected a lot of life experience, we also know the value of cutting our toenails without having to turn it into a workout. This all comes down to stretching.
Think of it this way, stretching IS the exercise, not the option. Stretching on a regular basis can have several health benefits. Many people know that stretching before physical activity is important, but it can also help prevent injuries from developing in the future when done properly and regularly. For peak performance with minimum injuries, stretch it out.