Stretching is the unappreciated stepchild of the fitness family, but it can make or break the rest of your fitness program. Workout veterans, athletes, and dancers know the importance of stretching, but it isn’t just for jocks and gym rats. It’s for everyone. Especially as people get older, regular stretching can help retain flexibility and a good range of motion, not just for exercising but for everyday activities.
Flexibility also has postural benefits. The key to healthy, natural, and functional posture is a balance of strength and flexibility between opposing muscle groups. Interestingly, being too flexible, even double-jointed, is not good either. When ligaments and tendons are too lax, the results can include instability and risk of dislocation and other injuries. Too little flexibility, however, is far more common than too much.
“Stretching and deep breathing are important parts of the warm-up and the cool-down.
Ballet dancers often take stretch classes to keep their muscles long and limber, and a few minutes of stretching usually are tacked onto the end of an aerobics class. If you are really tight, you might find it necessary to work with a personal trainer to learn to stretch properly. You also can try yoga, Pilates, and other disciplines that have flexibility and limberness at their core.
Aerobics instructors routinely finish each session with a cool-down and a stretch, and they do it so seamlessly that it simply becomes an expected part of the program. Don’t forget to stretch, however, when you’re working out on your own. Some people are naturally more flexible than others, and some people have trained themselves to improve their flexibility, but stretching can increase everyone’s range of motion and limberness. It is a gradual process, especially if you have not been stretching. Increasing your body’s flexibility by making stretching a regular part of your program contributes to improved posture, better body balance, and an enhanced sense of wellbeing. As your overall flexibility improves, you will discover many benefits to both your workout regime and the rest of your life. With more flexibility, you will find all movements easier, from hefting a bag of groceries to getting in and out of the car.