What Happens to Your Body When You Don't Stretch
Your warm-up is more important than you think.
Here's a riddle for you. What does stretching have in common with limiting screen time and drinking more water? The answer is simple: It's something that I know I should do, but I rarely accomplish actually doing so. Why? Again, the answer is simple: I prioritize other things ahead of it.
In the case of limiting screen time, I prioritize cleaning out my inbox. In the case of drinking more water, I prioritize my daily coffee habit. And in the case of stretching, I prioritize my workout, allotting my time to the actual exercise and not to a proper cool-down and stretch routine. Look, I'm not proud. I know this is a wellness faux-pas, but how bad can it be, really?
According to experts, it's bad. Take it from Anthony Crouchelli, creator of the.1 Method and founder and trainer of GRIT BXNG, who says, "There's a huge list of why stretching is so important to your fitness and well being." As it turns out, I'm not just risking tight muscles, I'm also risking serious injuries. Keep scrolling to see everything that can happen to your body when you don't stretch (and learn why I'll be changing my ways).
What happens if you don't stretch?
According to Centr trainer Ashley Joi, lack of stretching can lead to tight muscles, pulled muscles, and even long-term muscle damage. "You can hurt yourself by not incorporating proper recovery (stretching)," she says. "Your muscles can become very tight, which can lead to pulling a muscle or just muscle damage."
That's not all. Apparently tight muscles lead to improper exercise form, due to a limitation in your range of motion, which can lead to injury and/or pain. "If you're not putting in the work to recover correctly after your workout, you're more likely to get injured and you won't hit your goals that way," she says.
Crouchelli agrees. "When you lack the consistency inside your stretching routine, especially with an active lifestyle, your muscles will pull on your joints due to being tense, and as a result, leading towards long-term injuries," he says.
Should you stretch before or after a workout?
So, what can you do to protect yourself from tight muscles, pulled muscles, and joint and muscle damage? Easy: Stretch before and after a workout. Both experts recommend stretching dynamically before a workout and stretching statically after a workout. "Think of dynamic stretching as the drills you see athletes do as a warm-up before they step on the court, field, or track," Joi says. These are stretches that incorporate movement, whereas static stretching is when you hold a stretch position. "Static stretching does not have the movement as dynamic [does]," she explains. "It is your more traditional style of stretching like a standing quad stretch or a groin stretch."
Even though stretching before and after a workout is a good rule of thumb, Joi says it's more important to listen to your body while you do any kind of movement. Some days you might need a combination of both dynamic and static stretches, other days, you might need just one or the other. The important thing is that you're taking the time to stretch at all. "Stretching is so important for recovery and muscle health and integrity," Joi says.
Stretching classes you can do:
If you're wondering where to start with a pre- or post-workout stretching routine, there are resources out there to help you. Consider streaming workout classes, which often have warm-ups and cool-downs included in the routine, or you can seek out direction from a fitness authority on YouTube or a wellness app. Joi recommends checking out Centr Fusion, which is a new holistic workout program that connects the mind and body. All Centr Fusion workouts have warm-up and cool-down stretching included, so you can be sure your muscles and joints will be taken care of.
At the end of the day (or at the end of your workout, I suppose), it's important to remember one thing: "Rest days are just as important as exercise days," Joi says. "Stretching, hot baths, icing, foam rolling, and using equipment, such as a TheraGun can help keep you moving and on top of your home workouts." In other words, recovery is just as important as exercise. Remember that the next time you consider skipping your post-workout stretch.