Raise your hand if you tend to skip stretching exercises when you’re pressed for time. No shame—you’re definitely not alone there. But there’s good reason to block off just a few minutes to fit some in.
While mobility work may not be the most exciting part of exercising, it actually plays a pretty crucial role in a well-rounded fitness program: By slotting in some stretching, you can help improve flexibility, reduce tightness, and ultimately make your routines more efficient and safe (and help your body move better afterward too).
“Tight muscles can cause undue strain on the neighboring joints during normal daily function, or they themselves can become injured,“ Sasha Cyrelson, DPT, clinical director at Professional Physical Therapy in Sicklerville, New Jersey, tells SELF. As you age, your muscles get shorter and less elastic, she says, so it’s important to take an active role in maintaining and improving their mobility so you can continue to enjoy your regular activities without pain.
Not sure where to start? Before we get into some moves to try, it can be helpful to understand what we mean by stretching in the first place.
What kind of stretching should you do?
There are multiple types of stretching, but the two main ones that you’ve probably heard about are dynamic and static.
Dynamic stretching involves moving your joints and muscles through their full range of motion (ROM), or as close to it as you can get. Static stretching is when you sink into a position, ideally to where you start to feel a little pushback (but not to the point of strain or pain), and hold for a period of time.
Both are essential for a balanced fitness routine, but the type you choose should ultimately depend on when you’re stretching.
Dynamic stretching is great for preparing your muscles, tendons, and ligaments for exercise—which is why you’ll often see them stacked into a warm-up. Examples of some stretches to do before a workout include ones like cat-cow, down dog to runner’s lunge, or thread the needle. The key is to choose dynamic stretches that mimic movement patterns you’ll do during your actual routine, which will get your body and brain primed and ready for what’s ahead.