Updated: Oct 27
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As this article will show, stretching daily is extremely beneficial. Studies have shown that increasing the flexibility of our muscles protects us against pulls, strains, and tears. In addition to dramatically decreasing the number of days we waste due to injury, stretching can also improve sports and training performance. All that before we even get to improved posture and the ‘feel-good’ factor.
Here’s the thing, if stretching daily is so good for us, why is it that flexibility training is one of the most neglected areas of the workout process? Why is it that so few people finish their workout with a whole-body stretch session? I think one reason is that those people are simply not aware of just how good stretching is for them. This article aims to change that.
But you get more than a few factoids that aim to scare you into stretching daily. If you reach the end of the article, you’ll be rewarded with a 10 Minute Stretching Plan. The plan, which is from the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits & Workouts Vol 3, is a printable PDF document that you can download – for free.
Benefits of stretching daily #1: Reduced injury risk
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.
In the literature, there is a lot of research that supports this 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,’ (The Complete Guide To Sretching). Moreover, the researchers showed that those athletes who did not develop their flexibility suffered 15% more injuries.
Why is stretching so effective at reducing injury risk?
Stretching improves the elasticity of muscles
My go-to method of explaining this benefit of stretching daily is through a thought experiment. Consider what would happen if you put an elastic band in the freezer for five minutes and then tried to stretch it out. It's highly likely that the band would snap because it is stiff and rigid. And if it didn’t snap, it certainly wouldn’t be pliable.
Let's conduct a similar experiment except, instead of putting the elastic band in the freezer for five minutes, you're going to warm it up in your hands. If you stretch it out now that is supple and pliable, the band is far less likely to snap.
Stretching daily increases flexibility
Of course, the elastic band in the thought experiment represents muscles and connective tissues. And the differences in temperature represent the degree of flexibility of those muscles and connective tissues. Daily stretching, then, could be thought of as keeping
Warmth does to that elastic band what stretching daily 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.
Benefits of stretching daily #2: Improved performance
But the benefits of stretching daily don’t stop at reducing injury risk. Improving our flexibility, and with it the range of movement around a joint, can also improve sport and exercise performance. This outcome is a consequence of the multiple benefits that stretching brings about.
One way that stretching daily can improve performance is by making training safer. As we’ve already seen, stretching can reduce injury risk. Tight and inflexible muscles, remember, are prone to overextension which ‘can result in a strain or sprain and seriously interfere with your workout schedule,’ (Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding).
However, increasing the range of movement around a joint decreases the possibility of overextending ligaments and tendons. The knowledge of this alone bolsters confidence when we go into a lift which can encourage us to train harder.
Stretching enables you to explore a wider range of movement
Improving our flexibility also enables us to explore the full range of an exercise. I’ve developed a simple demonstration that illustrates this point. You can have a go yourself to see how well you fare.
The exercise I use for the demo is the overhead squat. I draw a diagonal line on a whiteboard and, while holding a broomstick in the overhead position, I attempt to squat down – ass to grass. But I cannot dip much lower than about 20 degrees at which point I pause and, with the end of the broomstick, make an etch in the line on the whiteboard.
Why is it that I’m unable to access more than a fraction of the full range of movement? Simple, tight calves and inflexible Achilles tendons. However, in this instance, I can compensate for my poor flexibility.
By popping a spacer under my heels, I can miraculously drop down until my hamstrings and calves compress (or until I’ve got a grass stain on my shorts). To complete the demonstration, I made another etch on the line. This enables me to calculate how much of the potential range of motion poor flexibility prevents me from accessing.
The main point of the demonstration is to show that increasing our flexibility can enable us to explore the complete range of an exercise. This is beneficial because by gaining a 'longer range of motion’ you can ‘contract additional muscle fibre,’ (Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding).
Benefits of stretching daily #3: Feel-good factor
Besides reducing our injury susceptibility and improving sports and exercise performance, other benefits of stretching daily include inducing a sense of calm and centeredness. Stretching has been shown to elicit similar physiological and psychological responses as Yoga and mindfulness meditation.
But then this shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that conventional stretching derives from Yoga and that is typically conducted in a quiet environment where we focus our attention on the muscle being stretched. So, don’t be surprised after a 10-minute stretch if you 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 such as endorphins. Furthermore, slow relaxed breathing, which we typically do (or ought to do) while holding a position, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Why's this a good thing?
Daily stretching is relaxing
As Dr. Sapolsky says in his book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, an activated PNS helps to induce a calming state while 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.
Benefits of stretching daily #3: Improved posture
Poor posture puts people at risk of injury. For example, excessive curvature of the lumbar region of the spine – technically referred to as lordosis – stresses the small facet joints which can result in pain. If the condition is left unmanaged, it can progressively worsen potentially culminating in a slipped disc and, in worst-case scenarios, corrective surgery.
Stretching and flexibility expert Christopher M. Norris explains one of the chief causes of lordosis. In many cases, it’s an imbalance of the muscles around the lumbar spine. ‘Here we see a combination of excessive length and weakness in the abdominal muscles and gluteals (sagging) and tightness in the spinal extensors and iliopsoas,’ (The Complete Guide To Stretching).
How stretching improves posture
A common method of rectifying muscular imbalances is to resort to resistance exercises. But as Norris observes, to correct this syndrome, we cannot simply strengthen the gluteal muscles, because the imbalance affects all of the hip muscles.
Norris tells us that instead ‘we must first focus our attention on stretching the tight hip flexors muscles.’ The reason he recommends stretching is because resistance training can make tight muscles worse.
In addition, if excessive tightness is not rectified, any attempt to correct postural misalignment through exercise will be thwarted for the reason the tight muscles will pull bones back into the original position.
Other benefits of stretching daily
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 muscle soreness)
Improves body control and awareness
Greater increase in movement around the joint (ROM)
Stretching, simply put, makes you feel good
Stretching daily How 2 Guide
Though stretching (flexibility) is a crucial and extremely important component of fitness it is probably the one that is most overlooked. Why this is the case I couldn’t quite say; maybe the vast majority of trainers are incredulous about the benefits of stretching.
Whatever the reason ensure that you are not among these risk-takers and implement a stretching regime. It’s easy to do and for the little time it takes the rewards could be substantial. To help you on your way I have produced a simple stretching guide that you can incorporate into your training.
The types of stretching we can do to improve our flexibility include static or developmental stretches where we hold the position for between 20 seconds and 1 minute. When working through a stretching regime, and this is best done post-exercise, it is advisable to include the major muscle groups whilst also paying additional attention to those muscles predominantly worked during the session. So even if your main session consisted of, say, a five-mile run, you should still stretch the muscles of the upper body but ensure to focus extra time on the quads, hammies and calves.
Increase flexibility program
Probably one of the best ways to ensure that you get your 10 a day is by bolting a stretch onto the end of your training/sports sessions. As soon as you finish pumping iron or pounding the tarmac immediately (or after the cool-down) initiate your stretching regime. Begin with the muscles of the upper body and slowly work down to those of the legs.
The ACSM recommends holding each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds each. However, I read a report recently that suggested holding post-exercise stretches for between 20 seconds to 1 minute and repeating each stretch 2 to 3 times. Basically, you perform stretches as you would a resistance exercise, the only difference being the reps are replaced by time and the intensity is much lower.
A stretch should never cause physical pain or discomfort. It should induce a mild sensation in the area being stretched.
Another method you can use to get more elasticated is by introducing into your life the Yogic science. This is my secret weapon against injury.
Every morning, without fail, I scrape myself out of bed at about 5ish, roll out the Yoga mat, and slowly work through a series of sun salutations and various floor exercises.
I’ve been doing this religiously for about a year now and not only is it a beautiful way to start each day but it has noticeably increased my flexibility which has translated into fewer injuries and improved physical performance. I cannot sing the praises of Yoga. (For more on the Yogic science see the Coulter H. David's Anatomy of Hatha Yoga.)
Please pay heed to the dos and don’ts of stretching. Though the advice is very simple if it is adheed to it will make stretching more pleasant and safer. Read over the following list and incorporate the points into your stretches.
The dos and don’ts of stretching
Do take a deep breath before applying a each stretch and ensure to exhale as you slowly ease into the position.
Do relax into your stretch.
Do breathe slowly during the stretch as this helps ease tension.
Do stretch on a comfortable surface such as a soft Yoga mat.
Do be mindful of what you are doing and concentrate on the muscle being stretched.
Do time your stretches with a watch, not counting in your head, will ensure each stretch is applied for an equal duration.
Don't bounce in the stretch position.
Don't force a stretch to the point where it causes an uncomfortable pain in the muscle.
Whilst stretching never push or put any pressure against a locked joint.
Don't rush your stretching regime.
Don't hold your breath during a stretch.
Benefits of stretching daily 10 minute routine
About Adam Priest –
A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and wellbeing practitioner. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam via LinkedIn or email@example.com.
*Unfortunately I was unable to locate the citation for the ACSM statistic.
Norris. M. C (2004) The Complete Guide To Stretching. A & C Black. London.
Sapolsky. M. R (2004) Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. St. Martin's Griffin. New York.
Schwarzenegger, A (1999) Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding. Simon & Schuster. USA.