*By Cloe Matheson*
I recently went through a particularly stressful month, which ended in me feeling extremely lethargic. I then realised how little I had been exercising. It had become all too easy to think ‘oh, I’ll do it tomorrow’, or even ‘I don’t have time’. To reintroduce my body to exercise, I started stretching every morning before having a quick workout. To my surprise, the stretching – which I had taken up on the advice of a friend – made me feel stronger.
After a few days, I decided I was ready to take up cycling again and settled on joining a local club. I quickly realised how much strength I’d lost while I wasn’t exercising – cycling for even short distances was difficult, and my legs felt like they were on fire after a particularly strenuous session, even after I’d been doing my rigorous morning stretches for the past week. However, after making sure to stretch properly before my next few cycling sessions, I started to feel myself regaining strength. To warm up, I performed strength exercises as well as stretching, and I was sure the stretching helped me with the strength exercises.
With my curiosity piqued, I researched to find out how exactly stretching was helping me feel stronger. I found that stretching helps to build strength because of the following reasons:
- Stretching helps your body increase its range of movement; to become more flexible. The more flexible you are, the more your body can do – meaning you’ll soon be able to tackle exercises and routines that were previously way out of your comfort zone.
- Your endurance is increased through stretching, so you’ll be able to accomplish more in a gym session than if you don’t stretch beforehand.
- Stretching after a workout helps to remove all of the lactic acid that your muscles have built up from working out, which in turn helps to reduce your post-workout aches – meaning you can exercise again much faster!
- Stretching helps reduce your risk of injury, meaning you’ll be less likely to put yourself out of action for a week and subsequently lose any strength you’ve gained.
You might now be wondering what the best ways to stretch actually are. Try the following stretches to improve your flexibility and increase your strength (these are only a sample – you can find plenty more to do!):
- Knee to chest stretch
Lie on your back with your legs flat on the ground. Pull one of your knees towards your chest while your other leg remains flat on the ground. Keep your lower back firm on the ground. Hold for thirty seconds, then repeat with your other leg. This one is particularly good for your lower back and your hips.
- Lying quad stretch
Lie on one side, keeping your bottom leg straight and bending your top knee. Hold your top foot and gently pull it towards your lower back, then hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
You might also like to try using mobility bands, which are fantastic if you need some extra resistance. I tried using mobility bands a few sessions into my new training regime, and I felt that they made a marked difference in my strength levels.
Stretching prepared my body for exercise again, and I don’t think I’d have gotten very far into my new regime without it. If you’re hoping to increase your strength, make sure stretching is part of your workout repertoire. Although it may feel like one of the least important aspects of an exercise session, stretching will complement your workout and help you to become much stronger and faster!
Cloe Matheson lives in the lovely city of Dunedin, New Zealand. She has written about many topics for various blogs and local business sites such as Sea Containers. Although her passion for writing tempts her to stay glued to the screen for hours at a time, she knows that taking breaks allows her muscles to stretch and relax, boosting her exuberant imagination for even longer. To know more about Cloe, visit her Tumblr page.
Photos by Unsplash and Cloe Matheson