Why is stretching important to muscle health?

Stretching is important to muscle health because it increases your flexibility and lengthens the area available for the muscles to contract. This flexibility makes it more comfortable to perform physical activity and allows the force of the muscle to be more effective. Stretching improves blood flow and increases range of motion.

Think of your body as a machine. Let’s say a vacuum cleaner. As you continually vacuum, eventually there will be a buildup of debris and your vacuum will become clogged. This begins to limit the machines strength and function. The obvious course of action will be to empty the debris container to get its ideal strength back --unless you are like my mother. She has never once emptied the bag out of her 1972 Hover vacuum cleaner. She will continue to run the vacuum over a spot in the carpet or rugs until it pushes the dirt around so much that it magically disappears. If she could add more horse power to this archaic juggernaut of a motor and compress the dirt and lint into a compact cylindrical block, she would. This is obviously bad on the vacuum AND the carpets (and my mother).

Many people have the same reaction to flexibility training and stretching. The body, in a way, builds up debris in the muscle that tends to limit force production and ideal function. Rather than turn off the machine and clean it, or stretch, people tend to try to add more horse power by lifting weights to push through the limitations. This is obviously bad on the body AND its ability to function without injury.

It is easy to see the rational with a machine, but when it comes to our own bodies we tend to think we can just keep going without the appropriate maintenance.

Stretching contributes greatly to muscle health, joint health and range of motion, optimal movement patterns, and neuromuscular recruitment. These contributions can lead to ideal levels of strength, power, and performance. Take a few minutes each day to stretch your short/tight/overactive muscles and reap some of the benefits of the previously mentioned results with breaking the sweat that generally goes along with those results.

Stretching is extremely important to muscle health. Unfortunately, too many people neglect it. Think of stretching and strength training as yin and yang. They complement one another if done in conjunction correctly. During strength training, you are constantly performing muscle contractions. Over time, the muscles will begin to shorten as a result of the thousands and thousands of repetitions performed. These muscles desperately need to be stretched out. In very simplistic terms, a long muscle is a strong muscle (we're not talking about length-tension relationships or joint angles here). As the resting length of a muscle shortens you begin to experience undesirable results:

- decreased range of motion

- the development of postural deviations

- altered reciprocal inhibition (muscle inhibition caused by tight muscles)

- synergistic dominance (when the body allows secondary muscle to take over for the primary muscles during an exercise)

- arthrokinetic dysfunction (inappropriate forces placed on a joint as a result of muscle dysfunction)

All of the above will likely result in a perpetual injury. That’s how important stretching is! Proper stretching will help keep the muscles long and the tendons strong. It will also help to shuttle out metabolites within the muscle that are attributed to soreness. There are many different types of stretching and each one has an optimal place and time, but that's a whole different topic! So the bottom line is start a stretching routine to compliment your strength training and cardio and you will notice the difference!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.