The Importance of Stretching

Find Out Why, When and Even How You Should Stretch.

For most of us, the importance of stretching is a severely underappreciated concept. That is until the time when we get out of bed multiple days in a row and our joints are stiff and creaky. At that point, you may find yourself pledging that if you can only walk like a normal person that you’ll do yoga and stretch every day and that you’ll never, ever take your muscles and flexibility for granted again. 

The fact is though, that most of us do take our flexibility and range of motion for granted, but we shouldn’t. They are what help us to be safe when we’re moving, to move in the way that we want to and to feel good as we’re doing it. That’s why I went to Jennifer Bunn, PhD who is a Kinesiology Professor and Associate Dean for the College of Health Sciences at Sam Houston State University. In this Q&A, she explains why stretching is so important and should be a part of our daily routine. 

Peppermint Tea & Me: What is stretching? 

Jennifer Bunn: A lot of people think of stretching just with flexibility, but really, it’s taking a joint through its full range of motion. When you do that, you actually end up pulling and elongating on the muscles that are attached within that joint. And that’s where you feel that stretch. 

PTM: Why is stretching important?

Jennifer Bunn, PhD

JB: The importance of stretching can’t be underestimated. If you don’t move and take your joints through their full range of motion, then you will lose that range of motion. Especially as you get older, your muscles will tighten up a little bit more than when you were younger. As that happens, your joints actually reduce how much motion they can have if you don’t stretch those muscles regularly and allow movement through that full range.

It’s also important to talk about balance – both from right to left and making sure that the right side of your back has a similar range of motion as the left side of your back. There’s also balance from front to back or anterior to posterior. We don’t want to find ourselves hunching forward all the time and reducing the range of motion that we have on the front side of the muscles compared to the back. 

PTM: Who should stretch?

JB: That one’s easy. It’s everybody. Everybody needs to move their joints and take their joints through a variety of ranges of motion and preferably through the full range of motion. That’s especially true through COVID where we’ve found ourselves working from home and in front of computers more. People who sit a lot need to stretch. 

PTM: Is there anyone who shouldn’t have a regular stretching routine?

JB: Anyone with degenerative joint disease should consult a medical professional before incorporating stretching into their routine. 

PTM: How often should we stretch?

JB: Daily. Even a couple of times a day. Just to kind of move things around. Even going from sit to stand will actually stretch the front side of the muscles that are in your hip to lengthen them back out after they’ve been shortened for a long time. So, people are probably doing it more frequently than they’re giving themselves credit for. 

PTM: When are the best times to stretch?

JB: If you are doing purposeful stretching and trying to really increase range of motion, you want to try and make sure that your muscles are warm, and your joints have become a little bit looser. When there’s increased temperature in the muscles, they move better. To give an example of this, when people do hot yoga and are able to move in ways that they aren’t usually able to, it’s because really warm muscles can really move. They can go into positions that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to when they’re colder. 

PTM: How long does it take to warm the muscles up and is there anything specific that we should be doing to do that?

JB: Not long. It takes maybe 5 or 10 minutes. You can walk about. You can go on a little baby jog. Whatever it is. Hop on an elliptical. Any of those kinds of things would be good before you really stretch. You can also do a complete workout. Do your workout in full and then stretch at the end. Most of the time at least some of your workout will get you into that range of motion and then you could do your full stretching routine if you wanted to at the end to really kind of push your muscles a little bit further as far as flexibility goes. 

PTM: What are the different forms of stretches?

JB: There are two forms that we typically use with stretching. There’s dynamic and static stretching. Dynamic stretching is when you move the joint through its range of motion. Things I think of for dynamic stretching are when you do like monster kicks where you kick your leg out in front of you and try to touch your fingertips with your toes. Or where you do knee hug walks where you take a step, you bring your knee up to your chest, you hug it, take a step, do the next one, and come up and hug it. So that’s kind of dynamic flexibility. 

Static stretching is when you go into a stretch and you hold it for 10 seconds, 30 seconds, or whatever it is. The goal of that is to try and progress the range of motion even further. 

PTM: What do you consider to be the top areas that people should pay attention to when they stretch?

JB: The ones that I think of, especially now, as we find ourselves in Zoom Rooms constantly, or if your job usually requires a lot of sitting, you want to stretch your hips, your back and probably your neck. The reason I bring up the neck is that whenever we’re on a computer or even on our phones, we end up drawing our heads forward and that creates a misalignment of the spine. The same kind of thing goes if we’re seated a lot over a keyboard or something similar. Everything crunches forward, and we make kind of like this C shape with our head, our back and even our hips moving forward. So, stretching all of those back out is a good idea.

PTM: What should we not do when we’re stretching?

JB: Don’t take a joint or a muscle past a point it doesn’t want to go. Listen to your body. If you’ve got an area of your body that’s saying, “Yes please stretch me,” pay attention to where it says, “Stretch me only to this point.” Do your best to kind of relax as you move. Don’t stretch an area that’s really tightened and fussy with you. If your body starts to talk to you a little bit, or even yell at you, as you’re trying to stretch that area, don’t ignore that. The best thing is to just listen and draw back a little bit and put it back into a place where it’s not going to be so fussy. Then maybe the next time you can try to push it a little further. 

When you’re working on stretching and flexibility, you do want to be able to feel the muscles pull a little bit. It should be that “hurts so good” kind of idea and not an “Oh no, I’ve just pulled something and now I can’t move.” That’s where your body is telling you, stop, reverse, go back and start over. 

Stretching Resources

If you’re now convinced about the importance of stretching, Jennifer has some suggestions for incorporating it into your day in a manageable way. Among those is seated or desk yoga. Here are some sequences that she recommends.

Jennifer also recommends stretches similar to the ones demonstrated at the following resources as being good for overall flexibility:

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