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15 Important Benefits of Stretching Before, After, and During a Workout

15 Important Benefits of Stretching Before, After, and During a Workout

Many people don’t really understand the benefits of stretching. For the most part, they stretch either once when they have completed their exercise routine, or stretching may occur just before getting started with an exercise. If you’ve ever wondered what the optimal time to stretch is —before, during, or after a workout—you’re not alone. It can be confusing to know when is best.

In this article, I’ll outline the benefits of stretching, and how and when you should go about incorporating stretching into your routine.

Before we tackle the benefits of stretching, let’s first learn about the basics.

Types of Stretching

Stretching is a way to keep your body open and access a range of motion that is more free and fluid. It’s an important aspect of exercise, giving the body space and flexibility to safely complete movements, while also help decrease the risk of injury and sore muscles

There are a few different types of stretching. Some stretching styles will be more beneficial at specific points of exercise.[1]

Static

Done during and after workouts, this is a longer held stretch where the body stays still in the stretching pose.

Dynamic

This type of stretching is done before and during workouts. It requires you to move through stretches repeatedly in a fluid motion.

Passive

This type of stretching is done after working out and requires assistance from bodyweight, equipment, or other props, so that your body relaxes and the gravity/equipment does the work.

Active

This type of stretching is done before, during and after a workout and involves contracting the opposing muscle to the area you are relaxing into the stretch.

How to Stretch Safely

Be sure that you are not completely cold before you stretch. If it’s a pre-workout stretch, then shake your body out a bit to get some warmth generating through your limbs before you stretch them.

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Hold each stretch (if it is static) for at least 30 seconds. Give your body time to accept the length. This is much safer for your tissues.

Stay at your edge. If you push too hard and feel pain, you’re doing the body damage rather than good. Back off to about 80%.

Benefits of Stretching

Now that you understand the basics, let’s go through the benefits of stretching, giving you a holistic view of when to implement stretching into your exercise regime.

Stretching Before Exercise

Starting off your workout with opening up your body is great for being able to access more range of motion in your athletic performance. Here are several reasons to stretch before exercise.

1. Prevent Injury

When you elongate your muscles through stretching, you reduce the risk of ripping and tearing muscle fibers and tissues. This can happen as a result of pushing the body too soon. If you go straight into exercise without having warmed up or moved at all, the areas that are still tense and/or stuck are the most susceptible to injury.

2. Get Fresh Oxygen Flow

Lack of oxygen flow can hinder your performance, as well as lead to serious injury within your joints. Pains, aches and tension can be felt when you begin to exercise if these areas haven’t been supplied with the oxygenated blood. Stretching encourages flow of fresh oxygen through your bloodstream to the rest of the body, not only relieving pain and reducing injury, but aiding in your movement performance. [2]

3. Reduce Fatigue

You’ll feel more able to withstand longer exercise sessions when you stretch before a workout, as you’ll be less likely to experience fatigue in your muscles. Stretching awakens the areas that need a more time and encouragement to wake up, so that they can efficiently take you through longer workouts.

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4. Increases Energy and Motivation

Blood accumulates in muscles that haven’t been used or lengthened. As mentioned above, in revitalizing the circulation to the muscles, you’ll feel a surge in energy levels. The blood also flows through to the brain (especially if you are stretching through your back and spine) so that you have increased concentration levels, giving inspiration to actually begin a workout.

5. Improve Performance

This one ties in all of the above benefits of stretching before a workout. You’ll have fresh oxygen for your body, reduce risk of injury, and boost your energy while reducing fatigue; this will overall improve your performance of whatever exercise you are doing, whether it’s cardio or strength.

Stretching During Exercise

Thanks to advances in functional understanding of how the body moves, fitness experts are proposing that you should be taking stretch-breaks during your exercise session. Modern fitness trainers will tell you this, as the benefits of stretching are being taught more widespread now in any good personal training course .

Basically, when you work one portion of the body to burn out, you take some moments to stretch this area, and then move on to another set, or onto another area of the body.

6. Increase Coordination

This is particularly beneficial for those who are strength training. Stretching when the muscle is tired or at burnout is a way to re-establish the pathways of your mind to muscle, so you feel more coordinated, and can freshen up your technique to keep your movements safe for the rest of the workout.

7. Get an Energy Boost

Just as you deliver fresh oxygen[3] and wake up your body before your workout, it’s valuable to do this mid-workout as well. You’ll stay energised, and then re-energize when you need it to get through the hard moments.

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8. Better Body Awareness

This not only prevents injury, but also helps you gauge your energy and fatigue levels to assess whether you need to ramp up your routine, or to give your body a rest if performance is lagging . Taking a moment to stretch gives you time to feel into your body, notice your heart rate, where you feel fatigue or tension, and allows you to then continue in a smart way. It’s a ‘stop, stretch, assess’ situation.

9. Reduce Lactic Acid Build Up

Especially when your exercise is intense strength training or high intensity interval training sessions, lactic acid will most definitely be felt in the body. Stretching helps to eliminate it from the system. Fatigue and pain may come in due to lactic acid build up, which can hinder your performance the rest of the workout. Stretching relaxes the muscles and help to dissolve accumulated lactic acid.

10. Deepen Body Movement

By elongating the muscles and reducing tight areas in the connective tissue through stretching, your body will have more movement freedom. If you’re doing repetitive or strength training exercises, this constricts the muscles as you work, so when you switch to a new exercise, it’s best to recreate length to perform the movements. For example, if you’re doing lunges, then take a quad and hamstring stretch before moving on to a squat. That way, your squat will be deeper with better form.

Stretching After Exercise

Sure, it would be nice if we could just lay down and be done with the workout when we’ve finished, but research shows that those who don’t take time to stretch post-workout will pay for it later, with sore and stiff muscles and more risk for injury.[4]

11. Immediate Muscle Repair

The improved circulation of blood that occurs through stretching allows the muscles to relax and receive this oxygen to repair straight away.

As the heart rate lowers after exercise, you give your body time to actually receive blood flow, which begins the recovery process much faster than if you just stopped without stretching.

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12. Create More Flexibility

Having a more flexible body not only allows you to get into some interesting yoga shapes, but also reduces muscle tension. After a few weeks of regular post-workout stretching, you’ll already notice a difference in your flexibility.

Holding more deep, static stretches the end of your workout will give you access to more length in many areas of your body—more than what you would have reached pre or mid-exercise.

13. Protect Your Joints

Your joints are surrounded by connective tissue and have muscles attachments. When you practice moving through your range of motion around your joints (think knees, hips, and shoulders), then you’re reducing tension and stuck-ness around those areas. This reduces pressure on joints and allows them to move more freely. Post-workout stretching gives those joints some love while your body is still warm. [5]

14. Reduce Risk of Cramping

When you eliminate lactic acid build up through stretching, you are also relaxing the muscles and letting energy, body fluids and blood to flow through without getting ‘stuck’ anywhere, which often causes cramping.

Dehydration can also be a factor in post-workout cramping, so we suggest sipping on some water while you stretch.

15. Cool Down Your Body

Improved circulation means a lower heart rate, gradually getting back to a resting rate. You bring your body back to balance at a slow pace with stretching, which offers your body and mind a sense of patience, mindfulness and relaxation after your workout.

Now you have every reason to stretch at the beginning, in the middle and right at the end of your workouts—so go ahead and get stretching. Your body will thank you!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Jane Dizon

Nurse, Ninja Mom, Digital Marketing Specialist and Writer

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Feeling tired all the time?

Have you ever caught yourself nodding off when you’re watching TV, listening to someone drone on during a meeting or even driving a car?

I know I have, especially when I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive.

Feeling tired all the time may be more widespread than you think. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

If you’re tired of feeling tired, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re feeling tired all the time and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

What Happens When You’re Too Tired

If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

  • You may have trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired within your brain.
  • You may experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not because your brain’s neurotransmitters are misfiring.
  • You may get dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
  • You may find it more difficult to exercise or to perform any type of athletic activity.
  • Your immune system may weaken causing you to pick up infections more easily.
  • You may overeat because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids even when you’re not hungry.
  • Your metabolism slows down so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

Are you saying that feeling tired can make me overweight?

Unfortunately, yes!

Feeling tired all the time can cause you to put on the pounds especially around your waist. But it is a classic chicken and egg situation, too.

Heavier people are more likely to feel fatigued during the day than lighter ones. And that’s even true for overweight people who don’t have sleep apnea (source: National Institutes of Health).

Speaking of sleep apnea, you may be wondering if that or something else is causing you to feel tired all the time.

Why Are you Feeling Tired All the Time?

Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Here’s a quick overview of each root cause of feeling tired all of the time:

  1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep restorative sleep.
  2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness which could be triggered by numerous issues such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
  3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance or emotional trauma.

It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

Feeling Tired vs Being Fatigued

If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

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Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep.

But fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive (source: Science Direct).

Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low stamina
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Low motivation

These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness but they usually last longer and are more intense.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. But there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

So, quantity and quality do matter when it comes to sleep.

The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[5] So, you should definitely plan on getting seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night.

If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is most likely reason you feel tired all the time.

And that is good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

  1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
  2. Exercising regularly
  3. Using stressbusters
  4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

So, I know it is possible to change your lifestyle even when you’re working crazy hours and have lots of family responsibilities.

After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

In addition, I lost two inches off my waist and looked and felt better than ever.

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I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

  • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy including getting enough sleep.
  • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of exercise a day ideally for six days a week.
  • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
  • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight and to achieve overall wellness.[6]

And yes, there does seem to be an important correlation between being lean and feeling rested.

But overall based on my personal experience and Dr. Sear’s scientific proof, the key to not feeling tired all of the time does seem to be 4 simple changes to your lifestyle.

L — Living Healthy

Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested and better overall.

So, whether you’re sleep deprived or potentially suffering from fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you probably want to find a way to sleep better.

In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger.

As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

1. Unplug

Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. But tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime.

So turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

2. Unwind

Do something to relax.

Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or taking an Epsom salt bath.

3. Get Comfortable

Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep.

Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed.

If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[7]

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Above all, be gentle with yourself and count your blessings, some sheep or whatever helps.

This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

E — Exercise

Many people know that exercise is good for them, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

That’s what happened in my case.

But when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my lifestyle.

As part of my lifestyle upgrade, I knew I needed to move more.

My friends who exercise all gave me the same advice: find an exercise you like to do and find a specific time in your schedule when you can consistently do it.

That made sense to me.

So, I decided to swim.

I used to love to swim when I was young, but I hadn’t done it for years. The best time for me to do it was immediately after work, since I could easily get an open swim lane at my local fitness club then.

Also, swimming became a nice reason for me to leave work on time. And I got to enjoy a nice workout before eating dinner.

Swimming is a good way to get your cardio or endurance training. But, walking, running and dancing are nice alternatives.

So find an exercise you love and stick to it. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training and flexibility training in during your daily 20-minute workout.

If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try because you will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

A — Attitude

Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted. But there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued.

Do you want to know what that master stress-busting technique was?

Breathing.

But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

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Here’s how you do “Long-Exhale Breathing”:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy (so you know you are breathing deeply from your diaphragm and not shallowly from your chest)
  2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air)
  3. Hold your breath while you count to 7 mentally and enjoy the stillness
  4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it)
  5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep, long exhale breath
  6. Repeat 3 times ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system

This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[8]

Plus, this is a great technique for helping you get to sleep, too.

N — Nutrition

Diet is vital for beating fatigue – after all, food is your main source of energy.

If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels.

Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated, time-consuming though.

For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

Unless your current diet is solely made up of fast food and ready meals, adjusting to a fatigue-fighting diet shouldn’t be too much of a shock to the system.

Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

  1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
  2. Add a healthy fat or protein to your any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed. Please note that carb-only snacks lead to blood-sugar crashes that can make you eat more and they can keep you from sleeping.
  3. Fill up with fiber especially green leafy vegetables. Strive to get at least 25g per day with at least 5 servings (a serving is the size of your fist) of green vegetables.
  4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice and corn.
  5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
  6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives such as So Delicious Dairy-Free Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice Cream.
  7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive and nut oils.
  8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts such as Kite Hill Plain Yoghurt with 1g sugar or Lifeway Farmer Cheese with 0g sugar.
  9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice

Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multi-vitamin or specific supplement.

The Bottom Line

If you are tired of feeling tired, then there is tremendous hope.

If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices.

If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes including:

  • Enough High-Quality Sleep with Bedtime Routine
  • Regular Exercise You Love
  • Stress Reduction with Long-Exhale Breathing
  • Fatigue-Reducing Diet

Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle Is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

More Tips to Help You Rest Better

Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
[2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
[3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
[4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
[5] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
[6] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
[7] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
[8] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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