Stretching has always been a weakness of mine. After I complete a tough workout I’m so excited to hop in the shower and eat something that stretching is postponed and frequently forgotten. This is terrible for a few reasons;
- Actually helps build strength,
- Reduces bulky muscles and lactic acid build up,
- Can help decrease/prevent post-workout soreness (obviously) and,
- Increases flexibility.
These are all pretty well-known benefits of stretching I would say. However, there are a few subtopics that are a little less well-known. They were certainly unknown to me.
- Stretching can help build strength.
After you work out your muscles are tight, swollen and bulky due to lactic acid and other ‘fluid’ buildup your body creates during an intense workout, particularly strength training. When we stretch our muscles, we release the lactic acid tension created by the workout. This decreases the recovery time of our muscles so they are less fatigued come the next workout session. Stretching also increases flexibility, which I will get in to in a moment, however when we increase flexibility we also increase our range of motion (one of my favorite topics apparently). When we increase our range of motion, we get more benefit from different exercises because more of the muscle and the surrounding muscle groups are being utilized!. Think squat- If we are more flexible we can squat lower, which is harder. When we are able to work harder we get a better workout. YES.
2. Stretching reduces buildup of lactic acid and BULKY MUSCLES.
For us pilates-doers, we always crave the long lean muscles our exercises are known for. I also run and partake in occasional weight-lifting/cross-fit/etc. excersices. Bulky muscles are not a goal for me. By stretching, not only do we relax these muscles but we STREEEETCHH them, elongating the tight muscles, thus aiding in muscle recovery.
A moment here to delve briefly into lactic acid. Lactic acid is not bad, it is simply a process our bodies use to fuel the muscles when there is a lack of oxygen due to an intense workout. When oxygen is scarce, our body instead breaks down the sugar from carbohydrates in our diet and turns it into something called Pyruvate to use as fuel for the muscles (read more).
Muscles retain waste and lactic acid residue after an intense workout. Lactic acid does not really hang around for that long; it generally dissipates on it’s own within an hour post-workout. Stretching merely increases the cool-down process helping to get rid of the excess more efficiently. Why do we want to eliminate lactic acid? I’m sure you are familiar with the burning sensation that comes along with any strength workout. This is the lactic acid building up. Now generally I relish this feeling because I know I am really working, but sometimes it just hurts. So yeah.
3. Stretching can reduce post workout soreness.
If muscles are not stretched post workout, they forget how to elongate. This leads to tightness and is the source of post workout soreness. By elongating our muscles after a workout these by products are released and the muscle has a chance to relax and recover instead of just being bulky and tight. (I’m thinking of a tightly coiled spring with an emoji face that’s kind of growling at me when describing tight bunched up muscles).
4. Stretching increases flexibility.
Some people are just more flexible than other and this is genetic. For example, dancers are chosen generally because of their natural foot and general flexibility. I am not very flexible which is possibly why I have historically avoided it…occasionally…I stretch every day (kind of).
Warming up is crucial prior to working out, however it is also important not to overstretch before you work out. The best time to stretch is AFTER a workout. Stretching before a workout is good if muscles are tight from a previous workout or just built up tension. Stretching muscles that are already loose and unworked however, can cause a lack of performance and injury. Overly loose muscles can not perform as well as muscles that are energized because they are feeling lazy and thus do not have the ability to react as quickly as necessary.
Learning to be a pilates instructor, stretching is so crucial for me. I am really working on stretching more to increase flexibility and my range of motion.
Let’s remember, however, that we are not trying to kill ourselves. It is not necessary to create unnecessarily and semi-unreasonable goals for ourselves. If you have super tight hamstrings (like myself) setting a goal like “I will do a split at the end of three weeks!” is going to take a LOT OF WORK and is probably unreasonable. We should stretch and feel the stretch, but never put ourselves in excruciating pain which it totally can be.
How much do you stretch? What is a reasonably goal you can set for your stretchy self?
That’s All folks!!
Al.kavadlo. “Stretching For Strength: A Better Way To Approach Flexibility Training.” Bodybuilding.com. N.p., 06 June 2017. Web. 06 Aug. 2017. https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/stretching-for-strength-a-better-approach-flexibility-training.html
“Stretching Exercises That Build Strength.” Rodale Wellness. N.p., 07 July 2015. Web. 06 Aug. 2017. https://www.rodalewellness.com/fitness/stretching-exercises-build-strength
Study.com. Study.com, n.d. Web. 06 Aug. 2017. http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-pyruvate-definition-lesson-quiz.html