Updated: Feb 26, 2021
The benefits, How 2 and stretching plan (an extension of the article: Injury - Prevention is Better than the Cure).
According to the American College of Sports Medicine a mere ten minutes of daily stretching can reduce your chances of incurring an exercise-related injury by as much as 50%* - which is a whopping pay-off.
Why is stretching so effective at reducing injury risk?
My go-to method of explaining this to my students is to ask them to engage in a thought experiment. ‘Consider this,’ I say to them, ‘what would happen if you put an elastic band in the freezer for five minutes and then, on removing it, stretched it real quick?’ Inevitably they say it would snap. Of course it would. And if it didn’t snap it certainly wouldn’t by pliable. ‘Ok,’ I continue, ‘take the same elastic band, before we snapped it, and warm it up in your hands for five minutes then stretch it real quick again. What would happen?’ Inevitably they say it would stretch.
At this point the penny drops. They see what I’m knocking at: what warmth does to that elastic band stretching and increased flexibility does to our muscles. If we work on our range of movement around a joint (ROM) by engaging in daily stretching we can reduce our injury susceptibility. By contrast, if muscles are tight and stiff and the ROM constricted they are much more likely to pull, tear or rupture.
In the literature there is a ton of research that supports the relationship between improved flexibility and reduced injury. For example, one study conducted on 200 college athletes ‘found that the risk of injury decreased as flexibility improved,’ (Norris 2004). Moreover, the researchers showed that those athletes who did not develop their flexibility suffered 15% more injuries.
Besides reducing our injury susceptibility stretching induces a sense of calm and centeredness. It’s almost like a form of meditation; at least I think so. After ten to fifteen minutes of gentle stretching we can walk away feeling as focused as a Zen Buddhist.
The reason stretching can make us feel this way is because it causes the release of ‘feel good’ chemicals – endorphins. Furthermore, slow relaxed breathing, which we typically do (or ought to do) whilst holding a position, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Why's this a good thing? Well as Dr. Sapolsky says in his book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, an activated PNS mediates calm whilst also promoting growth, energy storage and other optimistic processes.
Basically, when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated stress levels are down and the sense of well-being is up. (For more on stress watch this short video clip.)
Other benefits of stretching
Most importantly: regular stretching can reduce injury risk
A consistent stretching regime may, over time, improve your body alignment and posture
Reduces the severity of the DOMS (delayed onset of muscles soreness)
Improves body control and awareness
Greater increase in movement around the joint (ROM)
Stretching, simply put, makes you feel good