Stretching is one of the most critical components of fitness. And yet, it’s the one that most people do the least often. Most exercisers are only too happy to lift weights for an hour, do a 45-minute group exercise class, or power through a 24-minute HIIT session but then struggle to spend more than a few minutes stretching, often treating it as an afterthought.
Not stretching often or for long enough can have an adverse effect on how you look, feel, and perform. Too little stretching can undo many of the benefits of your healthy eating and exercise program. Short, tight muscles affect you in several ways.
Posture is the alignment of your joints, and your posture can be good or bad. When your posture is good, your muscles exert very little force to hold you in position. In contrast, when your posture is poor, your muscles have to work overtime. This can cause localized fatigue and pain. For example, if the muscles on the front of your body are tight, the muscles on the back will have to work much harder to hold you up against the pull of gravity.
Poor posture also makes you look older. After all, many older men and women have rounded backs and are hunched over. A perma-slouch also makes your abdomen bow outward, making you look heavy even if you are lean.
Stretching helps restore your muscles to their proper resting length, so that good posture is easier to achieve and maintain.
Reduced range of motion
Tight muscles reduce your range of motion which affects how you move. For example, tight lower body muscles will stop you lunging and squatting as well as you could, and that will make these exercises less effective. In the same way, tight muscles could mean that your running stride length is shorter than it should be. This will affect your running performance.
Whether you play sports or just work out for fitness and health, you should be able to move your joints through their natural range of motion.
Increased risk of injury
Short, tight muscles are more prone to injury than flexible muscles. The main mechanism for injury is overstretching. If, for example, you kick a soccer ball, your leg will swing forward in front of you. If you have tight hamstrings, a high leg kick could result in injury – a pulled hamstring.
In addition, tight muscles could force you to modify certain movements which can put stress on other parts of your body. Again, if your hamstrings are tight, you are more likely to round your lower back during squats, deadlifts, and leg presses. A rounded lower back is a weak lower back and much more prone to injury.
How to use an exercise timer to make stretching more effective
Part of the reason that stretching is so unappealing is that it produces results very slowly. But, if you stretch in conjunction with a Gymboss timer, you’ll not only get better results, your flexibility will improve faster.
Use an exercise timer to remind you when to stretch – if your muscles are really tight, it’s not enough to stretch for a few minutes 3-4 times a week. Instead, you need to stretch several times a day, especially after long periods of inactivity. Set your timer so that it sounds every two hours. When you hear your stretch timer beep, get up and spend a few minutes stretching your tightest muscles. For most people, that means the hamstrings, hip flexors, and chest.
Time your stretches – to improve your flexibility, you need to hold each stretch for long enough for your muscles relax. This is called developmental stretching and, in most cases, means holding each stretch for 60-seconds.
While you could look at your watch (distracting) or count (inaccurate), the best way to make sure you hold each stretch for long enough is to use your Gymboss as a stretch timer. Set your timer for however long you want to hold each stretch, and then factor in an extra 5-10 seconds to give you time to move into your next stretch.
So, if you want to hold your stretch for 30-seconds, program your Gymboss exercise timer for 35-seconds. This will give you enough time (5 sec) to seamlessly segue from one stretch into the next.
Do not underestimate the importance of stretching. It doesn’t matter how fit or strong you are, if your muscles are too tight, you are an injury waiting to happen. Stretching isn’t as fun as HIIT or strength training, but it is crucial for your long-term performance and health. Use your Gymboss timer to make sure you stretch often and long enough.