In my group exercise classes, I always remind participants to stick around for the stretching at the end of class, but inevitably some will skip out a few minutes early without stretching. Sure, they may be short on time and have to get back to work, but others likely don’t see themselves as “flexible” and don’t see a point in staying for those few minutes.
Skipping the stretch at the end of your workout is a huge mistake, and one that can cost you big time. Why is flexibility training so important? Consider this: your muscles adapt to the postures they adopt most frequently. So, if you sit at a computer for much of the day, your hip flexors and erector spinae (lower back) muscles are shortened (tight) and your hamstrings and abdominal muscles are lengthened (slack, or loose). Your pectorals and anterior deltoids are also probably tight , and your upper back muscles weakened or loose. Your cervical spine extensors may be pushing your neck and head slightly forward.
If you sit like this 6 to 8 hours a day, do you think stretching or strengthening those tight and weak muscles a few minutes a week will counteract this? No! That’s why it is so important to make stretching an everyday part of your life.
When we exercise, we focus on building strength or endurance, or burning calories with cardio. But without good range of motion (ROM) in our joints, our exercise abilities are limited.
Think of a time when your muscles were particularly sore or tight, and you tried to exercise, whether with weights or cardio. It was probably difficult. You tight muscles limited the amount and quality of your movement.
Now, think of your muscles being like this all the time, only you don’t realize it because it has become your body’s “normal.” In order to return your body to proper alignment, you have to stretch those tight muscles as much as possible.
Exercise causes muscle adaptation, which in turn shortens muscle fibers. Stretching at the end of your workout keeps muscles from becoming overly tight and limiting your ROM. Increasing flexibility will increase the pay off of both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise.
The message here- don’t skip the stretch. If you have to leave class early to get back to work, be sure to stretch for five minutes on your own when you get home that night. I also recommend incorporating yoga or an extended stretch workout into your routine once a week for maximum benefit.