Upon reading the title of this post, there are a lot of people out there who roll their eyes and say, "Yeah, I've heard that before." A lot of runners and people who are into fitness in general treat stretching as if it were some kind of nuisance, even many of those who do take the time to stretch do it begrudgingly. When you're ready to exercise, you just want to get on your machine and go. You want to cut the preliminaries and get your heart pumping and your feet moving, but you need to realize how important stretching is!
Why You Should Stretch
The most common reason people stretch is that you are less likely to strain or otherwise injure joints and tendons, pull muscles, or develop problems such as shin splints, while this is very true and beneficial, there are also additional benefits that many people don't consider. Along the same lines as reducing the likelihood of injury is the fact that stretching helps you be more comfortable in general during and post workout. Stretching can especially help you after your workout, which many people neglect to do, it can decrease the amount of muscle soreness you experience once your run is finished. Another one of the most important reason to do it, is that stretching also increases your athletic performance. Having your muscles loosened up and ready to flex means that you can move a bit freer, pushing yourself faster and further.
Bottom line: stretching makes you a better athlete, and helps you recover, quicker.
How to Stretch Properly
If it is going to help you, however, you have to know how to do it right. Improper stretching can actually cause injury. First off, never bounce while stretching, which can cause tearing in the muscle you're trying to stretch. Muscles need to be stretched slowly, because their built-in response to a rapid motion is to contract and become tense. Through gentle motions, however, you can avoid the contraction reflex and get a good, long stretch. Hold each stretch until the muscle feels like it's released its tension—for around 30 seconds or so—but don't try to push beyond that point. Never try to force past muscle resistance, and never stretch until you start to feel pain.
Find the Stretches that Work for You
Like your exercise routine, your stretching routine should be tailored to suit your needs. Everyone's body is different, and everyone has different goals when it comes to working out, so experiment with different stretches to find out what provides the best results for you. If you are running, focus on stretches that loosens up the legs and joints to get you ready to perform. Think of stretching as an inseparable part of your adventure into health and fitness. Remember—success comes to those who are properly prepared. Stretching prepares you to perform your best possible workout.