Benefits of Stretching
With such limited time in our busy lives, it can be extremely difficult to find the time for a workout, let alone add ten minutes to each end for the warm-up/cool-down. Ever since I started working out regularly on my own, I've been anxious to jump right into whatever I have planned. If it's a run, I'll usually start at full speed. If it's a circuit, I'll just get right into the burpees, jump squats, push-ups, whatever it may be.. In my head I've just always thought that with only 30 minutes or so to get the exercise in, I need to get it done and not waste time being slow. I don't know how many people have shared these thoughts, some probably think I'm crazy, but if you are anything like me, it's important that we take the time to understand why stretching really is so important. As a former dancer, I sometimes take for granted that my body is already flexible, and forget that it took years of conditioning to achieve. Now that I'm not regularly in the dance environment, I'm making a pact with myself to spend time before and after my workouts to warm-up and cool-down, stretch the body, and recover. Here are some reasons why:
1. Mental Preparation
No matter what your workout plan is, you can use the time before you begin to stretch your body to really think about what you're about to do. If you're trying to train to the next level, this time can be crucial for you to mentally prepare yourself for what your body is about to endure. I firmly believe that the only limits we have are in our own minds, so why not use the time while we're warming up to remind ourselves that no matter how many miles or push-ups we have in the plan, we can certainly do them.
2. Decreased Risk of Injury
Of all the reasons to dedicate time to warming up and cooling down, decreasing your risk of injury is by far the most important. Going through a series of stretches to target all of the muscles is crucial for getting them warmed up and prepared for the exercise.
3. Blood Flow/Circulation
Increasing the blood flow to the muscles prior to beginning your workout, means that the heart doesn't have to work as hard to control the pressure. This leads to a lower heart rate and a much easier transition into your exercise routine. Promoting the blood circulation before and after by stretching not only helps the heart, but it also greatly helps with muscle recovery and soreness by initiating the supply of nutrients to the muscles.
4. Self Awareness
Much like the mental preparation I discussed, ten minutes at minimum before and after a workout provides the chance for you to reflect on either what your state of mind is like right before you workout, or how your body feels immediately after. Were you frequently out of breath? Did your stomach hurt? Spending some time to tune into your body is important for improvement, and using stretching time can be a great way to do so.
5. Better Performance
All of the factors I've mentioned lead to better performance. When your body and mind is fully prepared, you'll perform your best. Why wouldn't we want that?
There are of course plenty of other internal advantages to stretching and improving flexibility that go beyond the physical performance. However, I hope this inspires some thinking about how you can incorporate more of a warm-up/cool-down process to your workout regimen and avoid any harm that can be done by neglecting to do so. We are always so focused on THE WORKOUT, but not enough emphasis goes into the before and after. So, I hope you'll join me in making this a mandatory part of your routine!