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7 Tips to Get the Greatest Benefits From Stretching

Former certified fitness instructor and the inventor of an innovative swim board. Passionate about swim fitness.

Everyone knows that stretching is good for you, but what exactly are the benefits?

Everyone knows that stretching is good for you, but what exactly are the benefits?

The Key Is Stretching

The eight-time gold medal Olympian Matt Biondi was a swimmer in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was heralded as one of the world most advanced athletes in our history. At 6'6' and with a strong athletic frame, some might credit his athletic ability to simply his size or his strength. Yet, some analysts have credited his speed with something more than size or strength or even technical ability; they have credited his athletic superiority to flexibility.

What can this great athlete teach us about our human bodies? For you see, while muscle strength and cardiovascular strength do matter in our athletic achievements, without flexibility, we cannot excel. Stretching is the missing ingredient in many of our fitness routines.

In addition to the added kindness given to our heart muscle, our weight-bearing muscles can stretch unencumbered by gravity. Journey with us as we explore:

  • Seven standards of stretching
  • The first and last standards of safety in stretching
  • A colorful diagram that showcases our human anatomy
  • Eight great stretching exercise posters
  • A video that demonstrates stretches needed specifically for triathletes
Colorful black and purple exercise poster detailing seven stretching tips

Colorful black and purple exercise poster detailing seven stretching tips

The Many Benefits of Stretching

The research is stated to be insufficient to determine whether or not stretching reduces injuries. So let's stick strictly to the facts. Here are five facts/benefits that stretching can offer our human bodies. Stretching:

  • improves balance
  • improves blood circulation for your skin tone
  • improves blood circulation for your muscle tone
  • improves range of motion of the joints
  • reduces stress

Now you can see the detailed benefits of stretching, you can readily see why stretching must be an essential ingredient in your fitness program.

Seven Stretching Standards

These seven stretching tips offer the fundamentals for stretching both when we are on land or in the swimming pool.

  1. Warm Up Your Muscles: Perhaps the most critical tip for stretching is to remember to warm up your muscles before stretching. I have heard many an exercise professional relate this to stretching a cold rubber band and how our muscles can break if we don't get some blood circulation moving before we stretch. This visual guideline is old and true and offers a fantastic way to understand the importance of warming up
  2. Breathe Deeply: Deep breathing brings in more oxygen to our blood stream and to the cells that service our muscles.
  3. Feel Your Muscles Expand: When we are stretching, we should feel it but not to a point of actual pain. Feeling our muscles expand during stretching routine should be a privilege - a privilege that we have time to do this task and a privilege that we are knowledgeable in how to properly stretch our muscles.
  4. Proper Posture: A good stretch involves good poster. We cannot stretch if we are improperly engaging our back or neck muscles. If we walk and exercise with poor posture, we are causing our muscles to work inefficiently and we are also harming our cervical and lumbar disks. The terms "maintain a flat back", or "engage our abdominal s" are vocal commands that we as individuals must mimic internally when we are stretching on our own.
  5. Hold Your Stretch 20-30 Seconds: Never short change your stretch. Your muscles need 20-30 seconds.
  6. Stretch Daily: Stretch your muscles daily. We brush our teeth daily, eat daily, why wouldn't we stretch the muscles that allow daily mobility?
  7. Never Bounce: Safety is always our first and last concern. So too with our seven stretching tips. Start with a warm up and lastly always remember to never bounce. Amateurs and children will bounce when they are stretching - stretch like a champion - with proper posture, for 20-30 second and slow and steady.

The swiftest athletes score the points, the most flexible athletes blocks the goals, and the athletes who excel and guide their team to more wins are signed to lucrative endorsement contracts.

Flexibility: What the Sports Professionals Know Applies to Fitness

Sports professionals know the importance of flexibility. All coaches know the critical function that stretches play in their fitness program. Perhaps I am out of line here but I feel that all great coaches train their staff that agility is pivotal for athleticism.

Remember, the football exercise of running "tires". This exercise showcases that fluidity of motion is mandatory.

The swiftest gets the score, the most flexible blocks the goals, and the athletes who excel are signed to lucrative endorsement contracts.

Beyond the financial rewards of great athleticism is a mental mindset of being the best that you can be. Learn about how to stretch properly and take your fitness routine to a new level, improve your physical health and your mental outlook

It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little - do what you can.

— Sydney Smith

Stretching Is for Everyone

Stretching is an exercise that all of us can do and all of us can benefit from and yet the daily routine of stretching sadly is not a routine for most of us and yet it should be. After becoming a certified personal trainer, I looked back at my own hospital stays and I am amazed that no one ever prescribed daily stretches. Of course, it now all seems so simple but oh, how I wish someone at the hospital had guided me on how to take care of my muscles.

We can stretch just about everywhere: Waiting in line, standing, sitting or just relaxing upon the couch.

Stretching is fantastic in the workplace because we need a break from the stress and stretching is simple stress relief for our tense muscles.

Yet stretching in the swimming pool, I find magical. My joints are happy, my muscles are not bearing any weight and my heart is ready with plenty of room for exertion in the swimming pool.

If injured, you must consult your physician about stretching. Be sure to thoroughly describe the stretches so you both are in tandem about the muscles that are being targeted and stretches.

No favorite children, no favorite sides. What we stretch on the left is the same that we stretch on the right.

Stretching in the Pool

Stretching in the swimming pool mandates the same time as on land: 20-30 seconds. Stretching in the water follows the same form as land stretches. The only item is to position your body so your head always remains above the water level. So far, the rules for stretching in the swimming pool from what I can tell from my research are the same: hold for 20-30 seconds.

Stretch equally and evenly, unless injured. When I train clients, I always joke no favorite children, no favorite sides, what we stretch on the left is the same that we stretch on the right and so on.

The Soleus Muscle

What I find fascinating is once you view the muscles of the human body, it becomes self-evident our human muscles love to be stretched. Look at the many muscles that support our legs and you can see the complexity and the interrelationship that all serves to work together to provide us the power to walk.

One of the critical muscles often forgotten about even by the athletes is the soleus muscle. This is a muscle in the leg as the anatomy poster below showcases. It is a critical muscle for runners and all humans who desire the best in balance and mobility. If you are stretching, don't forget to include this muscle that supports our weight, allows us to walk and run and swim. Remember to stretch your soleus muscle.

The Anatomy of Stretching

Reprinted, with permission, from Stretching Anatomy by Arnold Nelson and Jouko Kokkonen. Copyright 2007 by Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.

Reprinted, with permission, from Stretching Anatomy by Arnold Nelson and Jouko Kokkonen. Copyright 2007 by Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.

Feeling our muscles expand during our stretching routine should be a privilege, that we have time to do this task and a privilege that we are knowledgeable in how to properly stretch our muscles.

Three Important Safety Items to Remember for Stretching

  1. Always warm up before stretching.
  2. Never stretch to the point where you fill the muscles hurt. You should feel the muscles expand and be challenged but we always should stop our stretch before the point of any pain.
  3. Never bounce. Our muscles are one of our most valuable assets we own. It is our muscles that provide our mobility. It is our muscles that can lift more than own body weight, our muscles can left our spirits and have a positive impact upon our emotions.

Triathlete Stretches We All Can Learn From

Specific Stretches for Swimmers

The above video is fantastic for all of us to see how flexibility plays a major role in their sports. To be a better triathlete, you must work on your flexibility.

While swimming is all about rotation and flexibility, all our movements from sports to recreation to daily living demands flexibility. This video showcases when an athlete is great and flexible.

From head to toe, watch the video and see how the flexibility of the body is critical to speed for these major body parts:

  • Ankles
  • Hips
  • Shoulders

Best Stretches for Swimmers

Full Body Approach

  1. Ankle Stretch
  2. Hip Stretch: Side to side movement (don't arch your back)
  3. Shoulder Stretch: Mobility in upper back (keep shoulders level)
  4. Shoulder Blade Stretch: Poor form sometimes comes from poor flexibility. This demonstration is especially well done because they show how it is "done wrong" followed by the "correct movement". The visual showcases the tendency to perform this stretch incorrectly. This specific exercise/stretch is also critical for proper posture.
  5. Shoulder Stretch: Hand to the sky (lift from the lat - lift and rotate)

Posters to Guide You in Stretching

Stretching Poster

Stretching Poster

Stretching Poster

Stretching Poster

Test Your Stretching Knowledge - Seven Question Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. The first and last of the seven standards of stretching are always safety?
    • True
    • False
  2. The first rule of safety for stretching is to warm up before stretching?
    • True
    • False
  3. The soleus muscle is?
    • a muscle in our leg
    • a weight bearing muscle
    • a muscle often forgotten for stretching
    • all of the above
  4. A stretch should be maintained:
    • beyond the point of pain
    • for 20-30 seconds
    • for 10 seconds
  5. Stretching should be done daily?
    • True whenever you are healthy and able
    • False
  6. Stretching the ankles and the leg muscles would be helpful when patients are in the hospital?
    • True always
    • False
    • True when supervised under a physicans' care
  7. For safety during our stretching, we must remember to use proper posture and to not bounce.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. True
  2. True
  3. all of the above
  4. for 20-30 seconds
  5. True whenever you are healthy and able
  6. True when supervised under a physicans' care
  7. True
Stretching Poster

Stretching Poster

Stretching Poster

Stretching Poster

Stretching power

Stretching power

Share Your Thoughts

What muscles do you find the most difficult to stretch? Do you stretch daily? If not, have we motivated you to stretch daily? Please share with us today in the comment section below.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Kelly A Burnett


Kelly A Burnett (author) from Southern Wisconsin on March 23, 2013:

Hi Lady E,

Stretching is so critical and yet so few are promoting it. I cannot believe the hospitals haven't offered some sort of voluntary stretching classes/instructions.

I crafted the smart phone picture myself - I am very proud - I have learned so much here on HubPages. I cannot thank my fellow Hubbers enough. It truly is a team effort and a great class room which I am very honored to be a part of.

Elena from London, UK on February 16, 2013:

This is an awesome Article. I'm surprised no one has commented, so I will Tweet it. I particularly liked learning about the benefits of stretching. I didn't know stretching was that effective. I usually hold my streches for 3 seconds lol. Now, I'll give it 20 seconds. Thanks for the diagram too.

You seem like a Swimming Coach. I will check your profile to see if my guess is right. :-)