Updated: Jun 23
We are taught from a very young age that exercise is of great importance to our overall health. Building muscle can not only improve strength and stamina but can reduce stress and help manage blood sugar. But what about flexibility? If our muscles are strong and toned but cannot flex without causing pain, it is time to examine our thoughts about stretching.
The modern way of life implies that a lot of our time is spent sitting, and more often than not, in very uncomfortable places. We slouch and contract back muscles for more than a couple of hours uninterruptedly, tightening muscular tissue, which results in discomfort when we activate those muscle groups or engage in intense physical activity.
Have you ever tried to pick something up from the ground, and your back responded with a sudden ache in a particular area? Improving flexibility can ultimately enhance the quality of life, and if you think this idea is a bit of a stretch, try it for yourself.
Why does flexibility matter?
Whether a professional athlete or an accountant with a sedentary lifestyle, muscle flexibility plays a pivotal role in our body's ability to uphold proper posture. Poor flexibility lowers the muscle's capability to complete the full range of motion, leading to muscle tension and soreness. Inadequate flexibility increases the possibility of joint pain, lower back pain, and accidental injury.
Improving body flexibility can aid with balance problems, muscle aches, and joint pain, enhancing the overall quality of movement.
Signs of an inadequate body flexibility
Highlighting the positive influences improved flexibility has on physical health, we should also focus on the signs of poor flexibility. Chronic pain can be associated with numerous health problems, and inelastic muscles are one of them. Therefore, muscles and joints require consistent movement in the full range of motion to maintain strength and preserve health.
One of the main signs of inadequate flexibility is, of course, pain. Whether chronic or acute, present in movements or a series of activities, it is a clear indication that flexibility should get more attention while planning recovery.
Followed by pain and discomfort, a muscle cramp is a sudden contraction of one or more muscles. Although it is very likely everyone will experience muscle cramps at some point, the goal is to minimize their intensity and longevity and maximize muscles' full-motion potential. Due to muscle cramps, the use of constrained muscles can be temporarily limited; therefore, the ultimate goal should be to improve muscle flexibility and mobility.
Some of the causes of muscle cramps are also:
Muscle tightness can also be caused by leading a sedentary way of life, which is nowadays more common than not. One of the best ways to prevent or at least reduce muscle cramps is to develop a daily stretching routine. This shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes daily, but the benefits are significant.
Why should everyone have a daily stretching routine?
Every "wake up" movie scene starts with a long arm and chest stretch, following an actor's unloading sigh of relief. This might be regarded as a stereotype, but not without reason. Stretching increases muscle blood flow, allowing muscles to work effectively. Relieving muscle tension will reduce stress both physically and psychologically.
There are two schools of thought when stretching and exercise are considered. Some studies have shown no correlation between stretching after a workout and reduced muscle soreness, whereas some show stretching beforehand can weaken performance. Though one thing is sure, stretching enables muscles to reach full-motion potential, enhancing the quality of each movement.
Keep it simple
Some sports and activities require heavy and bulk equipment, whereas some require strength and endurance, but stretching is on the other side of the spectrum. All that is necessary is a yoga mat, if that, and a determination to improve flexibility.
Start the stretch with large muscle groups such as the lower back, neck, shoulders, and calves, while feeling the extension of the muscle, but not pain. In identifying problem areas, where muscle tension is accumulated, the stretch should be held for about 60 seconds, and 30 seconds in other areas, stretching both sides of the body equally. Stretching joints and muscles that are used frequently should be the foundation of a stretching routine.
There are thousands of studies that swear by the positive impact physical activity has on our brain, and flexibility routines are equally important. Stretching is a sure way to enhance the range of motion and improve flexibility, but mood elevation, improved posture, and pain relief can't be expected overnight. Consistency is key, so be patient and safe when practicing stretching to increase flexibility.