We are all acquainted with athletes’ rituals of kicking a football around, weightlifters practising their lifting techniques in the warm-up areas or even runners just moving about with purpose well before the scheduled start of their competition. Regardless of whether you’re an elite level athlete or not, stretching is key to beginning a physically demanding activity.

Stretching helps in getting the muscles moving before jumping head-first into a workout, or cooled down if done afterwards. It also helps you avoid injuries; after all, you wouldn’t want to be lifting heavy weights or start sprinting immediately after waking up.

  1. Why is stretching important?
  2. Benefits of stretching
  3. Types of stretching
  4. Dynamic stretching
  5. Static stretching
  6. Equipment required
  7. How to do it?
  8. Precautions before stretching

Whether you’re new to exercise or have led an active lifestyle, physical education teachers in school or your local sports club coach would have drilled the importance of stretching before you began playing. 

Stretching before you begin a workout is known to improve flexibility, range of motion in your joints as well as prevent injury, but recent studies have discredited some of the benefits by saying it in fact lowers athletic performance before a sprint, or even that it doesn’t even let your muscles recover faster, as was previously believed.

Despite the mythbusters, stretching is, as mentioned earlier, ritualistic in that it improves the flexibility in your muscles and joints before practising a full range of motions and lowers the risk of injury. You wouldn’t want to throw a ball with all your might without having stretched your arm a little, would you?

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Here are some of the benefits of stretching before and after exercise:

  • Helps improve blood circulation in all the muscles in the body
  • Improves overall posture
  • Helps in controlling and managing stress by reducing tension in the muscles
  • Can reduce chances of injury
  • Reduces muscle stiffness along with adding range of motion to your muscles and joints
  • Reduces risk of lower back pain
  • Improves muscle coordination before performing more intense movements
  • Decreases chances of lower back injury
  • Improves soft tissue strength that promotes recovery and reduces injury risk

Do you stretch before beginning your workout or warm up? While they are often confused with each other, both of those activities are performed for specific purposes. While warming up essentially means getting your body to become “warm” before a sport or exercise, stretching is done to give the muscles their full range of motion before performing more intense activity.

Stretching is further divided into two categories, and it is here you begin to understand why some studies suggest one of those forms can adversely affect athletic performance.

A variety of exercises performed repetitively to work up the muscles and joints before starting out on an athletic or workout routine. It is performed to improve muscle and joint mobility before more intense movements allowing your muscles to be able to perform them without injuring them.

Dynamic stretching involves performing the same movements at a slower pace before gradually increasing intensity, in order to free up the muscles. It is for this reason that dynamic stretching is the ideal way to begin a workout or a sport.

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Ideally performed after a workout or a game you prefer playing, static stretching involves holding a stretch at its extreme end before returning to a neutral position. Whether lying down or standing up, holding a stretch for about 30 seconds will help relax the muscles and tissues after an intense workout, allowing your body to cool down.

Static stretching exercises allow you to ease your muscles after they have been stretched to their limit for the duration you have played the sport or exercised. This is why static stretching isn’t recommended to be performed before an athletic performance, as it decreases your muscles’ ability to perform at their peak.

Stretching movements are typically performed without the help of additional equipment. But it is advised that you perform a warm-up movement before beginning a stretching routine ahead of a workout, like a light jog, either in a park or on a treadmill, or a light bicycle session.

You can use the equipment you use for the particular sport for dynamic stretching, like swinging a tennis or badminton racquet lightly or kicking a football around to get used to the movements before increasing intensity.

While those who lead an active lifestyle would be acquainted with the benefits and the need for stretching before starting out an exercise, those starting out or looking to get back into leading a healthier lifestyle must ease into their exercise with some stretching. 

Doing it one day isn’t going to make your muscles magically more flexible after months or years of inactivity, so getting into a routine of stretching before every exercise and static stretching after will stand you in good stead. But here are a few suggestions you can incorporate into your fitness regime:

  • Stretch before and after any exercise, be it yoga, cardio, weight training or a sport.
  • Work on the large muscle groups, like hamstrings and quadriceps, neck and shoulders, lower back and the hips.
  • Do not ‘bounce’ while stretching your muscles, as it can lead to a pull, and in worse cases, muscle tear.
  • Do not stretch to the point of it causing pain. Increase the range of motion gradually.
  • Include stretching movements that mimic the motions you use while playing the particular sport or performing a specific exercise, like swinging a bat from left to right. This is different from a warm-up.
  • Stretch within 10 minutes of finishing a game or an exercise.
  • Before running, you can begin by moving your ankles in a variety of motions and swing your legs sideways to free up the muscles.
  • After a run, stretch out your hamstrings, calves and quadriceps in either standing or sitting positions to avoid cramping.
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As you would before beginning a workout regimen or a sport, be cautious about any injuries or physical conditions you may have, and seek the help of a doctor before starting out. Here are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Do not stretch to the extent that it causes pain.
  • If you suffer from a prior injury, try to avoid stretching the injured part or adopt a different technique.
  • Do not attempt to stretch beyond the limits your body would allow.
  • Try to maintain balance and correct posture while performing stretching exercises.

Whether done before playing a sport or working out with weights in the gym, stretching is an important activity before and after any exercise. Not only does it minimize chances of injury, it also helps you achieve your optimum performance during every exercise routine.

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