Why Stretching Muscles is So Important
The most important reason to stretch your muscles is because it keeps your joints loose. The looser your muscles are, the more flexible you are and the more you are able to use them efficiently so you’re not pulling and tugging on other areas of your body.
For example, people with really tight hamstrings often use their glutes or lower back to do things the hamstrings should be doing. That leads to more tightness in your glutes and lower back. Low back pain is one of the most common problems we see in primary care.
The same thing can occur with your neck and shoulders if you have a super tight neck. You may use your shoulders to do things your neck should do or vice versa. So, when you’re not loose — and many people often are not loose from sitting in awkward positions with poor posture and poor lumbar support — we’re often using muscles to do things that other muscles should be doing.
The more flexible you are in general, the more you can stretch and the better off you’re going to be using those muscles for the correct purposes.
Stretch Muscles Correctly
There are good and bad ways to stretch. The best ways to stretch muscles are to warm them up first, whether you’re going to exercise or not.
Moving is the best way to warm up first, then do dynamic stretching. For example, it’s better to stretch your hamstrings by swinging your leg back and forth instead of just sitting on the floor and leaning forward to stretch your hamstrings.
You are much more likely to injure your hamstring by leaning forward to stretch than you would if you stretch them through movement. You have to warm them up first.
Stretching for Beginners
Begin with light exercise, such as walking, to get the muscles warm. They automatically loosen up once they’re warm. Then, start with low-level dynamic stretches, such as swinging your leg back and forth or swinging your legs side-to-side. Stretch the glutes and the internal and external thigh muscles.
Everything should be done with movement. You can do what we call butt kicks where you hit your heel to your butt if you can. You’re almost jogging when you do that. Do these four or five minutes a day. You don’t have to do a lot as you get further into it and become more advanced.
Moving in a repetitive way, such as walking or pedaling a stationary bike, warms the muscles appropriately.
Stretching as You Age
Our bodies become less mobile as we age. It’s natural for those muscles to get tighter and shorter as we get older. So you have to work harder at it as you age.
But the tighter and shorter your muscles are, the more they tug on your joints. Then it becomes harder to move, harder to change positions and harder to get in and out of your car. You lose some of that mobility, but also core strength. You’re not able to move with full range of motion.
Stretching is really good from a muscular standpoint just because it keeps you strong. It keeps you mobile and keeps that range of motion higher so you can continue to be active as an older adult.