What Happens If I Don’t Stretch After Exercising?

Good question! Not much. You probably go about your day and do your normal routine. You might feel some soreness or fatigue, but in general you’re okay. When we talk about your muscles post workout, it’s a different story. As they cool down your muscles will start to tighten and stiffen as the blood flow decreases. The muscles can possibly pull more on your joints due to this tightness. Your range of motion may now be more limited. This can also increase your chance of injury over time. So what’s the point? If I’m fine and it doesn’t cause me pain right away what’s the big deal? To be frank, it’s not a big deal, but it is important if you want to be a better athlete.

Let’s think through what stretching actually means. One of the many definitions according to Miriam Webster dictionary is “to extend in length”. CrossFit’s definition in it’s classic 2002 CrossFit Journal article titled, “What Is Fitness” defines it as “the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.” When you stretch, you are essentially working to lengthen your muscles (which is sometimes heard as an eccentric movement). Sometimes, it’s more than that though. Depending on what type of stretching you’re doing, there is more happening. 

There are different types of stretching, such as static, dynamic/joint rotations, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) and loaded stretching. Static stretching (the most common) is useful for muscle recovery, while dynamic, PNF and loaded stretching are better for increasing strength and range of motion. CrossFit gives a great example of how stretching is more than just lengthening your muscles:

Consider the benefits of strength in the bottom of a heavy overhead squat, for example. When the body is strong at the end range of motion, the nervous system becomes used to the position and is more likely to allow an athlete to enter it without a stretch reflex in the future. These neurological adaptations are critical to flexibility even though most people relate flexibility only to muscle length.

When we stretch before and after class, it’s on purpose. The idea isn’t just to become more flexible, but to be fitter athletes because of it. It’s one of the ten physical fitness skills and just one piece to your overall fitness picture. Incorporate stretching as your part of your fitness routine and you won’t be sorry! 

Written by: Liz Moran, JCFit

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