Easily the most neglected aspect of my fitness routine throughout most of my life has been my complete lack of stretching. I’m willing to put in long hours at the gym tiring myself out and grinding through difficult exercises, but when it comes to adding 10 minutes of my day to stretch it seems like way too much time and I struggle to put in any type of effort for it. However, the reality is that stretching is vital to long-term performance. Take it from someone who always ends up getting injured at the most inconvenient times: you want to start adding stretching into your daily routine now.
This isn’t the type of article that requires a big introduction so lets get right into the benefits.
Flexibility and Range of Motion
These two kind of go hand in hand because when you are more flexible you are naturally going to have more range of motion. Remember back in school when we all took physical fitness tests? For me, and I’m sure for a lot of you, we were able to achieve either National or Presidential fitness awards depending on how we scored in all of the tests. In elementary and middle school this was no issue whatsoever for me, as I breezed through every test. However, my body eventually caught up to me due to lack of care. In high school I couldn’t get to Presidential anymore because of the sit-and-reach. The one year I could barely even touch the little metal thing to move it at all.
As our bodies develop and especially in adulthood, it becomes vital to stretch to maintain flexibility and range of motion. This is important for our overall health, not just to get an award for fitness tests. Flexibility makes daily tasks easier, as we’re constantly reaching and bending over for things. It also helps to delay mobility issues that come with age, and keeps us from getting injuries like muscle strains, pulls, and tears.
While flexibility has more to do with the muscles, range of motion usually refers to one’s joints. Stretching increases range of motion as well, since our muscles and joints are constantly working together. This gives your body more freedom of movement and helps keep away those annoying aches and pains that come from joint stiffness.
My first big growth spurt was from before Freshman year of high school to my Sophomore year, where I grew 8 inches from 4’8″ to 5’4″. I had never had to stretch much in the past and I continued this stretch-less lifestyle moving into soccer season my Sophomore year. However, during that season I tore my hamstring and pulled both of my hip flexors. It was actually a referee, one that my family was friends with, that went to my coach and parents after a game and said they needed to stop me from playing so I could heal because it was obvious I was unable to perform at my usual level.
Injuries suck. Stretching helps prevent this. Those sentences back to back really should be enough to convince you to stretch. Even over the past few years I’ve struggled with injuries because I refuse to take daily time for deep and calculated stretching. I’ve had more hamstring troubles because of lack of flexibility. You can’t have wicked tight hamstrings and then play 90 min a game in high level soccer and expect everything to be fine for a whole season. I’ve had Achilles injuries as well that can most likely be contributed to tight calves and lack of ankle mobility.
The point is if you stretch you lessen your probability for injury because those times where your muscle is being strained is less impactful when you have the flexibility and range of motion to put up with those movements. I can honestly tell you that over the last maybe 8 months that I’ve been stretching consistently, my little injuries here and there have pretty much gone away, and I’ve had no major injuries (knock on wood).
Back pain gets its own category because it is so common, especially as we get older. Lack of stretching and tight muscles lead to decreased range of motion, and there’s nowhere this is consistently felt more than the lower back. The lower back is kind of the epicenter for the body. Smack dab right in the middle, all of our muscles and body parts essentially have an impact on our lower backs. Tight hamstrings? This can mess with lower back. Flat feet? That effects the lower back. Hip issues? Lower back. Posture issues in the shoulders? Lower back issues. It’s annoying, trust me because at the end of the day there are tons of muscular and joint issues that could make their way to our lower backs.
Stretching to the rescue. Once again if we take the time to stretch not just the lower back, but the rest of our body as well, we can prevent lower back injury or general stiffness. Already have lower back stiffness? Don’t worry! Start stretching now and you may find that you are able to overcome existing injury. Personally this is 100% true. A few years ago I tweaked my lower back squatting. I had a little bit of a lapse in form and fortunately was able to lift the weight back up and recover, but the damage was apparently done. That night all of a sudden I was unable to bend over whatsoever and had significant pain in my back. I ended up getting an MRI and found out I had Spondylolisthesis. Despite “lol” being in the name it is definitely not funny. Essentially a vertebrae kind of overlaps another, causing back pain. While I still can’t spell or pronounce my injury, I keep it at bay by stretching consistently and strengthening the muscles around it. I haven’t had back pain in a bit because of my daily stretching routine, and am still able to lift and play high level sports.
Poor posture is caused by muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalances can lead to improper alignment which then translates to poor posture. Stretching leads to better posture by keeping our muscles balanced and our alignment intact. This is important because bad posture essentially compounds upon itself. Meaning that one day someone will tell you that you look a bit hunched over and then years later you look in the mirror and realize your posture has drastically changed, and not for the better.
As we said before, poor posture can lead to back pain. It can also lead to shoulder pain and definitely leads to lack of range of motion. Lack of range of motion leads to aches and pains. See how it’s all connected?
Improve Physical and Athletic Performance
As an athlete this is definitely the endgame of stretching. Stretching helps our bodies reach optimal levels of flexibility and range of motion. That means we can perform at a higher level. You can run and cut harder. Your swing will be more pure. You can handle more physical contact. Lack of injuries means you can play harder, longer, and more frequently without having to rest due to aches, pains and strains. With this in mind you will without a doubt be able to achieve higher levels of excellence in athletic performance than you can with a stiff and injury-prone body.
On top of that, stretching helps with muscle growth. If you’re trying to get big muscles you need to take care of them. Stretch out those muscle fibers and you may find that your muscle growth responds well. Stronger yet flexible muscles. Think that might help with your athletic performance? I think it might.
Finally, stretching increases blood flow to your muscles. That means that you can recover quicker and won’t get as sore. How many of us hit those big leg days and can’t walk for the next few days? Sitting on the toilet becomes arguably our number one fear because we may never get up again. I always think what if that day is when the zombie apocalypse starts. I’m going to be useless because my legs have about as much function as one of those newborn giraffes you see tripping all over themselves. Fear not, stretching can take care of these very normal fears that we definitely all have…
There are a few other solid benefits that, while they don’t get the honor of their own bolded section, deserve to be mentioned.
Stress Relief: Stress leads to tense muscles. Muscles will often tighten up as a response mechanism to your stress. Fortunately that relationship kind of works both ways. By stretching your muscles and keeping them from tensing up, you combat stress and keep it from overwhelming your body.
Calm Mind: I don’t meditate. But I do like some nice quiet time free of distractions. Stretching in a nice quiet location and really focusing just on the movements will help to calm your mind. I like to do it in the morning so that I feel ready for the day ahead.
Headaches: A lot of us get headaches due to tension from daily issues we may have. Stretching actually helps to reduce tension because it keeps our body loose and, as mentioned before, takes the stress out of our muscles.
Just Do It
If you’re like me then it sucks at first and just seems like a nuisance, but stretching will 100% improve your life. Remember, at Influential Gentleman the biggest recurring theme is implementing small changes that will guarantee to improve your life at least a little. Stretching will improve it a lot! 10 minutes a day. I know so many people will find a way to say that 10 minutes is hard to find. Those people I’m sure watch zero tv and spend every waking hour being completely productive. But for the rest of us, I know we can handle 10 minutes if it means improving our bodies and protecting our bodies long term.
As far as a routine, I’m not going to provide a lit of stretches because a) it’s so easy to look up and b) I’d just be stealing a routine from online anyway. All I do is Google the body parts I want to focus on: legs, back, shoulders, whatever. Then again, just do it.