Few things can solve your problems like a nice stretch. Back hurting? Legs feeling tight? Stressed out about life? Stretching can solve all these problems and then some!
The beautiful thing about stretching is that there are so many different ways to do it and so many benefits that come from it. Most people think of stretching as reaching for their toes or swinging their arms around. But the reality is that there are different types of stretching that benefit different areas of your life!
From improving your mobility and flexibility to helping you manage your emotions and mental health, stretching is something that is so good for you and so easy to do that it would be damn near foolish for anyone not to do.
But with just about anything in life, too much of it can come back around to hurt you. That’s why it’s important to know about the different types of stretching, when and how to do it, and the benefits of doing it!
The two types of stretching you should know about
While there are many different forms of stretching, there’s two types that we are mainly concerned about: static stretching and dynamic stretching.
Static stretching is likely the type of stretching you are most familiar with and most probably already practice. The goal is to improve your flexibility by moving your muscles as far as they can go and holding it there for a given period (usually between 25-60 seconds).
Examples of static stretching include:
- Forward fold
- Lizard pose
- Downward dog
- Child’s pose
- Butterfly stretch
Dynamic stretching on the other hand focuses on your ability to move freely and easily. It promotes mobility by preparing your muscles and your joints for activity. This method includes gentle and controlled movements where you mimic the physical activity you’re about to engage in to help warm up your body and avoid injury.
Examples of dynamic stretching include:
- Arm circles
- Leg swings
- Spinal rotations
- Hip circles
- Foam rolling
While both stretches serve different purposes, they’re equally important for your health and safety.
By improving your flexibility and mobility through stretching, you’re investing in your body’s ability to move and function properly. But it doesn’t end there, years of research and ancient practices have shown that stretching has the ability to drastically improve your mental health, reduce stress, and regulate your emotions.
How stretching affects the brain
Research has shown what our ancestors have known for centuries, which is that stretching your body has many benefits affecting your brain chemistry and overall mental wellbeing. From releasing feel-good hormones to allowing you to enter a deep state of relaxation, stretching is as beneficial to your mental health as it is to your body.
By releasing feel-good hormones, improving circulation, releasing tension, and refocusing our awareness to the present moment, stretching focused practices such as yoga and pilates are making a comeback in today’s society and are gaining popularity once again.
While our ancestors didn’t have the science to back up their beliefs, scientists have found that stretching releases feel-good hormones such as serotonin and endorphins that help elevate our mood and combat symptoms of anxiety and depression. This leaves us feeling happier, lighter, and less stressed, allowing us to regulate our emotions more efficiently.
The state of relaxation that comes from stretching also allows our minds to wander off from the stresses of our days, reconnecting us to the present moment allowing us to feel more grounded and aware of our current state.
Furthermore, as our bodies relax and our breathing gets deeper, stretching also allows us to improve our blood circulation, delivering more oxygen to the brain. This increase in oxygen levels in the brain helps you think clearer and focus your attention inward, strengthening your inner relationship between mind, body, and soul.
In fact, ancient practices such as yoga are centered around the idea of stretching and are designed to help you increase your inner body awareness, allowing you to ground yourself and combat the stresses of life more efficiently.
Now that we’ve covered the importance of stretching for both our mental and physical health, let’s dive into when and how you should be stretching to reap all the benefits while avoiding injury.
When and how to stretch
As we mentioned earlier on, there are two main types of stretching: static stretching and dynamic stretching- and while both are beneficial and important for your health, there’s a time and place to exercise for each of them.
Similar to exercise, stretching is a commitment you have to be willing to make in order to extract the benefits as best as you can. The more you stretch, the better you will get at it and the better you will feel. You should be careful however not to rush the process as that might lead to overstretching of the muscle- what’s commonly known as muscle tearing.
Static stretching which helps improve flexibility helps elongate and loosen your muscles. Over the last decade, research has indicated that this type of stretching should be reserved for post-workout cooldowns instead of using it as a warm up tool. The reason for this being that static stretching puts your muscles in a state of relaxation, decreasing your ability to perform at your maximum capacity in exercise. Static stretching before your workouts also puts you at risk of injury because it loosens up your muscles’ and joints’ steadiness and stability which is required for safe physical activity.
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, is an excellent tool for warming up prior to exercise. By mimicking movements you will be performing at a much lesser intensity, you prepare your muscles and your joints to move in your desired pattern. This allows you to perform at a much higher efficiency and can drastically improve your ability to run, jump, squat, push, and pull. Mobility training relies heavily on dynamic stretching for this exact reason.
While dynamic stretching seems to have gained popularity over the past few years, it’s important to incorporate both dynamic and static stretching into your routine to fully maximize your body’s ability to perform.
If you don’t exercise but still wish to implement stretching into your routine, stretching before and after bed is an excellent way of ensuring you get a nice and restful sleep and a strong fresh start to your day. Not only will it help you relax your mind and body, this practice will also help you rid your body of inflammation which often causes poor sleep and feelings of lethargy and fogginess throughout the day.
Regardless of when and how you decide to give your body a good ol’ stretch, the important thing is that you do it. Your body is your temple, and it’s the only one you get- so let’s make sure we take care of it so it can continue to serve us and allow us to do the things that make us happy the best that we can.