The benefits of stretching are almost endless. Whether you are trying to improve your lifting game, improve posture, or reduce stress, there is a reason for you to stretch more. Here are just ten reasons to spend more time stretching.
So many people focus on the more “showy” aspects of fitness: their ability to lift heavy objects (strength), carry weight for prolonged periods (muscular endurance), and run/jog/cycle/swim for an extended time (cardiovascular endurance).
Unfortunately, flexibility and mobility often fall through the cracks because it’s perceived as somehow less important.
Let me tell you, that is 100% not the case!
Stretching and working on your mobility is an absolutely crucial component of your fitness.
Below, I’ll share with you a long list of benefits of stretching that will prove to you just how important it really is.
You’ll learn all the ways stretching (before, during, and after) your training sessions leads to better overall athletic performance, improved health, and so much more.
By the end of this post, you’ll be putting a LOT more emphasis on incorporating stretching into your daily workouts.
Let’s stretch, err, jump right in.
The Benefits of Stretching
1. Stretching improves range of motion
The reason you want to do upper body and leg stretches before workout is simple: it enables you to move through the full range of motion.
When you spend a lot of time sitting down (like so many of us do), your muscles and joints tend to stiffen up and grow tight. If you were to jump right into a workout without stretching, you’d discover you have reduced range of motion.
Read that again: an INCREASE.
You won’t just restore your body to normal, healthy motion, but increase it so you have greater mobility at your joints.
2. Stretching can help you be a better athlete
There’s a very simple reason that you should warm up before your workout: it helps you to move better, more fluidly, and thereby improves athletic performance.
That’s right, you’ll run, jump, squat, lunge, and lift better because you took the time to stretch and warm up before your workout!
Trainer’s Note: Stretching refers only to movements that lengthen your muscles, but “warming up” refers to any activity (including dynamic and static stretches) that encourage blood flow to your muscles. Simply put: all stretches are warm-ups, but not all warm-ups are stretches.
One study found that warm-ups increased range of motion in the lower back, knees, and ankles, which translated into better athletic performance during the trials.
3. Greater Muscle Recruitment
One of the reasons that stretching builds muscle is that increasing your range of motion helps to increase muscle recruitment.
Think about it: if you only move through 80% of your full range of motion in a squat, lunge, or shoulder press because of tightness or stiffness due to lack of flexibility, your muscles are being recruited at 80% efficiency.
By stretching and increasing your range of motion to 100% (or even beyond), you increase muscle recruitment to that 100% (and beyond).
This translates into greater strength during your lifts, so you’ll be able to handle heavier weights and more sets/reps because your muscles are working more efficiently during every movement.
4. Stretching increases muscular strength
This is the benefit you were really hoping for!
When you do lower or upper body dynamic stretches that increase your range of motion and thereby maximize muscle recruitment, you push your muscles to their full capacity and hit “muscle fatigue” (muscles depleted of energy) faster.
Not only that, but you increase the (VERY GOOD) micro-damage to your muscle tissue. When your body makes the repairs to that damage, it expands energy storage capacity and builds new fibers—ergo, your muscular strength increases.
One study found that stretching can increase has the capability of increasing your muscular mass (and strength) by as much as 318% in just under a month. Those are some huge gains just by spending a few minutes working on improving your flexibility and mobility every day.
5. Stretching lowers injury risk
This is the benefit that takes the cake for me, the reason I’m such an outspoken advocate of stretching and mobility work in general.
Over my years as an athlete, I’ve suffered a lot of injuries—some unavoidable, but many fully preventable. In fact, it’s safe to say that a large percentage of the injuries sustained by modern men and women could be avoided with regular stretching.
You see, thanks to our modern sedentary lifestyle (spending 6+ hours sitting at work, then more at home), we experience reduced range of motion and increased muscle and joint stiffness/tightness. This leads to reduced range of motion (as we discussed above), which forces our bodies to compensate by adapting our movement.
But this is a VERY bad thing! Our bodies are designed to move a certain way—the efficient way—but when it has to adapt and compensate, it can throw off the very delicate musculoskeletal balance.
You can experience advanced wear and tear on your joints, reduced mobility, even an increase in joint pain all because of incorrect movement.
And that’s before you add weights into the mix! Once you add a load—in squats, lunges, bench presses, deadlifts, or rows—any incorrect movement is compounded, and the damage done is so much worse. Your risk of injury skyrockets when you combine limited joint mobility with incorrect movements and heavy loads.
That’s why it’s so important that you incorporate chest, shoulder, knee, hip, lower back, and glute stretches—all stretches, really—into your pre- and post-workout routines.
By increasing range of motion, you allow your body to move the way it was designed to, which will maximize strength in your joints, bones, and muscles. Your risk of injury will be greatly decreased (as this study found) because you take the time to stretch.
6. Stretching promotes better balance and posture
Science has proven that stretching drastically improves both your balance and your posture.
Poor posture is a major contributor to both repetitive motion injuries and active sports/training injuries. When you sit, stand, run, jump, squat, lunge, or even lie down with poor posture, your musculoskeletal system is at greater risk of sustaining damage because (as we mentioned above) it’s moving incorrectly.
Correcting your posture through stretching can drastically reduce injury risk and improve your mobility in every aspect of your life.
But it doesn’t stop there—it also improves your balance, your ability to stay upright and in control of your movements in any situation.
Balance decreases with age, but joint immobility or deficiencies can also throw off your balance. With poor balance, you’re more prone to stumbling, tripping, or falling (during athletic endeavors or just around your home), which means you’re more injury-prone.
Not with stretching on the job!
Stretching corrects poor posture, muscular and joint imbalances, and develops greater equilibrium and body proprioception (awareness). As a result, you’ll move more gracefully and fluidly through life, at far lower risk of injuring yourself.
7. Less Pain
Stretching works out the kinks in your muscles and the stiffness in your connective tissue. By loosening up the soft tissue, you can reduce muscular and joint pain.
Stretching is actually one of the best treatments for lower back pain. Chiropractors and doctors alike will recommend regular stretching to help limber up the tight, stiff joints that could be impairing your movement or causing you pain.
8. Stretching helps to lower stress and anxiety
Did you know that tense muscles can lead to tense, stressed, or anxious thoughts, and vice versa?
You’ve probably noticed that when you’re worried or nervous about some big problem, your muscles and joints tend to get stiff or knot up. And, when you’ve got a lot of pain or tension because of some injury or mobility problem, your mind tends to feel more anxious or stressed.
Loosening up your body can be incredibly mentally relaxing and help to calm your mind, just like dealing with your stress and anxiety can help to loosen up the tension in your body. It’s a “chicken and egg” situation that can be greatly helped by spending a few minutes every day stretching.
The physical benefits of stretching combined with the meditative aspect of steady breathing and mental counting can do wonders to relax you from the brain down.
9. Stretching reduces tension and improves circulation (and reduces headaches)
Tension headaches are a serious problem for the very busy (read: very stressed). They can range from a minor irritation to downright debilitating, all because the stress you’re struggling with is increasing the pressure in your brain and causing your headaches.
Stretching, however, encourages better circulation throughout your body—it can literally drain the excess blood and pressure out of your brain, which will reduce tension headaches.
Anytime you feel a headache coming on, spend 5-10 minutes stretching (especially in downward-facing positions), and you’ll find your headache evaporates!
10. Stretching improves athletic performance
Last, but certainly not least, stretching will make you a better athlete.
Simple: you’ll move more easily, have greater strength, increase muscle recruitment, reduce your injury risk, enhance your balance, combat pain, and clear your mind.
Put all of this together, and you’ve got the recipe for a next-level athlete.
It doesn’t matter what it is—basketball, swimming, cycling, kayaking, lifting weights, or running—the improved mental and physical abilities resulting from regular stretching will translate into better athletic performance overall!
Stretching Benefits – FAQs
What are the benefits of stretching in the morning?
Stretching in the morning helps to limber you up after a night spent in bed, and can help to reduce pain or stiffness resulting from incorrect sleeping posture.
If you often wake up with a stiff, aching neck, lower back, shoulders, elbows, knees, or wrists, it’s worth spending a few minutes stretching to work out the kinks. Plus, by loosening up tight muscles and joint tissue, you’ll find you move more easily throughout the rest of your day.
You’ll also get your blood flowing and increase energy production right off the bat—a recipe for success in your physically and mentally active day!
Is it OK to stretch every day?
Not just OK, absolutely recommended! Stretching every day (even on weekends) will help to combat the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle and encourage better mobility, flexibility, and overall fitness. Even if you spend just 5-15 minutes a day, it’s very much worth putting in the time!
Does stretching burn calories?
Stretching does burn calories, but the amount you burn depends largely on how active your stretching session.
Static (or passive) stretches won’t burn significantly more calories than any other slow-paced movement. Consider it about the same calorie-burn as getting up from your couch to walk over to the fridge and back—a few, but not enough to speak of.
Dynamic (or active) stretching, on the other hand, will burn a lot more calories. Because your body is moving—doing leg swings, back bridges, arm circles, bodyweight squats, and more—you’ll get your blood flowing, your muscles fired up, and calories burning in much greater measure.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, stretching isn’t just a good addition to your workout routine—it’s utterly critical, a component of fitness you JUST CAN’T DO WITHOUT!
I strongly recommend that you spend at least 20 to 30 minutes per day stretching: first thing in the morning, before your workout, between sets, after your workout, and before going to bed.
Mix in some flexibility-focused static stretches with muscle-building and blood-pumping dynamic stretches, and you’ll see a drastic improvement in your balance, posture, mobility, pain levels, mental relaxation, and muscular growth.
More Stretching Guides and Resources
The Best Stretching Programs and Apps for Improving Flexibility. Looking for a stretching program or app to help you kick up your flexibility? Here’s a detailed look at the top stretching apps for every level of user.
5 Best Pre-Workout Stretches for Leg Day. A solid stretching routine before leg day reduces injury and maximizes your effort in the gym. Here is the best pre-workout leg stretches.