“Don’t forget to stretch!” You’ve heard it over and over again from P.E. teachers, fitness instructors, sleep experts, and wellness gurus.
You don’t doubt that there are plenty of benefits of stretching — it seems like sound advice.
But what are the benefits of stretching, exactly?
Is stretching strictly a gym-day activity, or are there benefits of stretching daily?
And are there benefits of stretching before bed, even if you didn’t have a particularly active day?
To better understand the benefits of stretching, we spoke with a handful of experts. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Stretching Prepares the Body for Physical Activity
One of the most important benefits of stretching is that it prepares your body for physical exercise.
“Stretching before working out will improve your range of motion, make your muscles more pliable, and increase your muscles’ resistance to the upcoming impact,” says Michael Julom, CPT, founder of ThisIsWhyImFit.com.
However, when choosing pre-workout stretches, it’s preferable to stick to dynamic stretches, which will:
- get you moving
- increase blood flow
- raise the temperature of your body’s tissues
“For example, if you’re about to go for heavy squats, dynamic movements like hip rotations and high kicks should feature in your warm-up,” says Julom.
2. Stretching Helps Correct Imbalances
Like most complex machines, the body requires regular maintenance to keep it functioning properly.
One of the benefits of stretching is that it provides a mini tune-up when our daily activities (or nightly rest) cause misalignment.
Dr. Bruce Pinker, DPM, PC, foot and ankle sports medicine specialist, explains that simply sleeping in certain positions can cause some tissues to lengthen while others tighten.
“Stretching prior to working out is important to help equalize and realign muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which may be stretched or shortened, and this can help prevent injury,” Pinker says.
“If some muscles, tendons, or ligaments are shortened or tightened, it may cause an individual to compensate in her workout by favoring one side over the other. [This can lead] to potentially improper movements that can cause muscle or tendon strains or ligamentous sprains that can be painful,” he adds.
3. Stretching Reduces Post-Exercise Tightness
Whether we were short on time or just didn’t feel like spending another five minutes on the exercise mat, we’ve all skipped post-exercise stretching, only to have our muscles remind us how important it is the next day.
Where dynamic stretching helped you prepare for exercise, post-workout static stretching ( e.g., holding stretches for 30 seconds) can help your body recover.
“The benefits of stretching after a workout are significant,” Pinker says.
“It allows for a gradual recovery of the body, which helps the muscles, tendons, and ligaments to return to a proper resting or neutral position. This can help reduce post-exercise contractures and tightness which, in turn, can help reduce injury.”
4. Stretching Improves Range of Motion
Another benefit of stretching after a workout? It’s the ideal time to work on flexibility and mobility, says Lara Heimann, PT, creator of LYT Yoga.
“Post-workout is a good opportunity to stretch the fascia (connective tissue) since the body is warmer and the tissues will be more supple,” she says.
Ensuring you have the necessary range of motion to perform exercises, participate in sports, and complete everyday activities can help safeguard against injury-causing movement compensations.
5. Stretching Bolsters Athletic Performance
Will stretching alone make you MVP? Not exactly.
But a lack of mobility could hold you back from achieving your full athletic potential, says Dr. Lisa N. Folden, licensed physical therapist and owner of Healthy Phit Physical Therapy & Wellness Consultants.
“If a muscle can’t make it through its full range of motion without tearing or causing pain, it is weak,” Folden says.
“When you stretch regularly and maintain good flexibility, your muscles perform optimally. Have you ever seen a sprinter pull a hamstring halfway through the 100-meter? Well, that’s the kind of athletic performance you can expect if you’re not maintaining good flexibility,” she explains.
6. Stretching Relieves Stress
If you’re not motivated by the physical benefits of stretching, consider the mental health benefits of stretching.
“Daily stretching is important for maintaining good range of motion in the joints, but it’s also beneficial for your breathing capacity and stress relief,” Heimann says.
“Stretching the torso, ribcage, spine, and surrounding tissues will leave you feeling more relaxed as well, a residual effect of stretching. Stretching can also trigger the release of feel-good hormones that will create a positive feedback loop, meaning you will want to keep stretching each day!”