What are the Benefits of Stretching After a Workout?

Posted by: Paul Dhaliwal Comments: 0

If you work out regularly — or want to start doing so — you’ve likely heard how important it is to stretch after a workout. Yet, do you know why stretching following a workout is so crucial? 

Stretching after a workout is essential for maintaining flexibility and range of motion, as well as alleviating sore muscles and improving blood flow. Some research even suggests that stretching regularly can fortify the body against injury. 

In this article, we discuss what stretching is, the different types of stretching, and six potential benefits of stretching after a workout.

What is Stretching?

Stretching is the practice of flexing or stretching a specific muscle group, muscle, or tendon. 

People stretch for many reasons, with some stretching every day as part of a morning or evening routine, or after a hard workout. Some even use stretching as a form of workout, such as those who practice more strenuous forms of yoga. 

As a person stretches more frequently and consistently, they are likely to see an increase in their flexibility. This allows them to stretch further and deeper, improving the mobility of their body. 

The Importance Of Stretching

Stretching is important for many reasons, offering improvements to your body in several different ways. 

According to Harvard Health, stretching is key for keeping your muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. This flexibility is responsible for maintaining a good range of motion in your joints, helping to protect your body against joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. 

In a 2021 research survey, a majority of participants stated that their primary motivation for stretching was to improve their flexibility and wellness. 

From the wellness standpoint, stretching offers a key opportunity to improve one’s overall quality of life, especially if you spend a lot of time in an office setting. However, the survey also notes that stretching should be one part of a larger general fitness program to be at its most effective. 

Can You Stretch Too Much?

When it comes to whether you can stretch too much, it has less to do with the frequency of stretching and more to do with the intensity.

Flexibility is a physical skill that must be developed over time. Though stretching regularly can fortify your body against strains, it can also cause strains if you push your muscles and joints too far before they are ready. This is known as over-stretching and — in worst-case scenarios — it can even cause muscle, tendon, or ligament damage. 

There is also a condition known as hypermobility syndrome in which a person’s joints are unusually flexible, which can sometimes be caused by excessively and repeatedly stretching joints past their limits. 

This condition is characterized by misaligned joints, frequent sprains, dislocations, and increased joint pain. If you suspect you may be experiencing these symptoms, contact a healthcare practitioner.

To avoid over-stretching, incremental improvements in your flexibility are the key to a healthy and safe stretching routine. Though you should feel a moderate amount of strain on your muscles as you stretch, if you begin to feel pinching or pain — especially in the joints — lessen or stop the stretch until the pain subsides. 

Different Types Of Stretching

In terms of how to stretch correctly, there are several different types of stretching, with each serving its own unique purpose. A good stretching routine will often incorporate two or more types of stretching to give the body a great stretch and boosted mobility. 

Let’s examine the four main types of stretching: 

Static Stretching

Static stretching is the most common form of stretching in which you assume a position and hold it before releasing your muscles from the stretch. 

To do a static stretch correctly, you should reach for the furthest point in the stretch you can get to without feeling pain. Then, you hold this position ideally for at least 15 to 20 seconds before the release.

The more comfortable you get with static stretching and the more you practice, you may be able to hold a stretch for longer or go deeper into it. Generally, holding the stretch for 30 seconds, releasing it, and then repeating the stretch 2 to 4 more times is the best way to go about static stretching. 

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching is often used in workout warm-ups, as it involves movements that take a muscle, joint, or both through a full range of motion. 

A popular example of a dynamic stretch is shoulder circles. To perform a shoulder circle, you reach your arms out wide on either side of your body, allowing each arm to form a 90-degree angle with your body. Then, focusing the movement in your shoulders you move your arms in circles, switching direction after you have completed a few repetitions. 

Most dynamic stretches work in this way — you focus the movement on the part of your body you want to stretch and repeat it for a few repetitions before either doing the movement in the opposite direction or on the opposite side of your body. 

Active Stretching

An active stretch is a type of stretch in which you contract one muscle to stretch the other. This is done without using any sort of external source of force, like a band or wall. 

Active stretches should generally be held for between 10 to 20 seconds before releasing. This type of stretching is considered to be good for pain relief, faster workout recoveries, and improvement of posture. Like other types of stretching, active stretching can also improve your overall flexibility. 

One type of exercise where you will commonly see active stretching is yoga. Yoga uses many different active stretches to help keep the whole body engaged throughout the exercise. 

Ballistic Stretching

Like dynamic stretching, ballistic stretching is a movement-based type of stretch used to help warm up and increase the body’s range of motion. 

How ballistic and dynamic stretching differ, however, is that ballistic stretches attempt to go beyond the body’s natural range of motion. Since there are risks associated with doing this type of stretch — such as the development of hypermobility — ballistic stretches must be done slowly with great control. 

Generally, ballistic stretches are practiced most commonly by athletes who must perform outside of the body’s natural range of motion, such as ballet dancers or gymnasts. Regularly practicing ballistic stretching can help them to perform more dramatic movements without being injured in the process. 

6 Health Benefits of Stretching After Working Out

As discussed, there are many potential health benefits to a regular stretching routine. This is especially true for stretching following a workout after the body has been pushed to its limits and needs help recovering. 

Here are 6 health benefits of stretching after a workout: 

1. Stretching and Injury Prevention

On a general basis, the relationship between stretching and injury prevention is unclear. 

What we do know is that during a workout, the muscles are strained, which can cause stiffness and soreness following the workout. Stretching can help to alleviate this stiffness, making it easier to remain mobile after a hard workout, such as weightlifting. 

While this may not directly prevent injury, it can help to ensure your muscles recover more quickly and remain a good range of motion to continue working out in the days to come. 

2. Stretching to Relax

Stretching can have a calming and relaxing effect on the body — hence why it is so widely used in yoga practices, one of the biggest mindfulness-centred exercises available. 

Regular stretching, especially following a workout, can help promote the release of endorphins which lessen the feelings of stress and heighten the sense of tranquillity within our brains, according to Science Focus. Static stretching in particular can increase activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to increase feelings of relaxation. 

3. Stretching and Lactic Acid

When your work out, especially during strength training workouts, the body produces lactic acid as your muscles work to produce energy at a faster rate. A build-up of this lactic acid is what ultimately leads to your muscles and body feeling sore after a hard workout. 

Stretching after a workout can help to reduce the overall accumulation of lactic acid in the body which, in turn, can help you to feel less sore following a tough training session. 

4. Stretching to Increase Flexibility

The most obvious health benefit of stretching is increased flexibility and range of motion. 

By increasing your flexibility and range of motion, you are also increasing your body’s overall endurance and ability to perform. For example, let’s consider a squat movement. Getting deep into a squat can be difficult without the proper hamstring, quad, and calf flexibility. Stretching can help you improve this flexibility and, thus, achieve a deeper movement when squatting and a more effective workout. 

Flexibility can also help you to achieve greater core strength and stability, both of which are highly important for building sustainable muscle and avoiding injury. 

5. Stretching to Improve Blood Flow

Stretching is excellent for improving your blood flow, especially in your hips and legs. When you stretch, your body’s muscular contractions promote circulation, allowing oxygen to reach your blood more easily.

According to a 2020 Harvard Health report, regular leg stretching can help reduce cramps and muscle strains, as well as protect against heart disease and stroke by promoting better blood flow. This is thanks to stretching causing the muscles to press on arteries in the legs, causing an expansion that allows more blood to flow through them. 

6. Stretching to Boost Energy

Part of why our bodies can feel tired and de-energized is a lack of oxygen flowing to our muscles, causing us to feel sore. Since stretching can improve our blood flow and oxygen circulation, it can also boost energy, making us feel more awake and alert. 

This is one of the top reasons why many people incorporate stretching into their morning routines. It helps them to feel active and energized in the morning, starting their day off on a positive note. 

Final Thoughts

There you have it — six key reasons why you should always stretch after a workout.

Building a regular stretching routine can take time and commitment, but your body will thank you for it at the end of the day. Not only can stretching improve your physical health but it can also have many positive effects on your mental health as well. 

Remember, if you are new to stretching, take things slow and do not push your body too far too fast.

As with all things, good things come with time!