The consequences of not eating enough in a nutshell is metabolic slowdown. Think of the infamous fireplace analogy when it comes to your metabolism: The fireplace is your body and your metabolism is the fire inside, and the only way to keep the fire lit is by adding wood – (in this analogy, food is the wood). If you keep adding wood to the fire, the fire grows and burns in the fireplace. Similarly, if you want to speed up your metabolism and burn more calories, you have to feed your body. But what happens if you don’t?
So, your goal is to lose weight and build muscle and you are the gym to get your lift in or are about to hit the treadmill to run some sprints. In this situation the typical “static stretching” that we usually think of may not be the best choice. Static stretching is used to stretch muscles when the body is at rest. When we perform static stretches, we gradually elongate the muscle we are stretching to the point of slight discomfort and hold that position for roughly 20-30 seconds before releasing the stretch and relaxing. Stretching in this way causes our muscle fibers to be pulled apart, which causes temporary damage to the muscle (similar to how damage occurs when we exercise) and can actually lead to your muscles being weaker in the short term. Because of this, static stretching prior to any intense or explosive exercises is not recommended. One way researchers have tested this is by having individuals perform the “jump test”. In this test, individuals were asked to jump as high as they can before and after performing static stretches. The subjects were actually able to jump higher when they did not stretch prior to the test. An alternative to static stretching is performing dynamic warm ups. This is where you slowly perform movements similar to what you will do in your workout and gradually increase speed/intensity as your muscles warm up. An example of this would be doing high knees or butt kicks prior to running sprints.
Even though the research has shown that static stretching can cause temporary muscle weakness, those who performed static stretching regularly had increased strength in the long run. This is likely because of the slight damage that occurs to your muscles when you stretch. When your muscle fibers are broken down (whether by stretching, lifting weights, or other exercise) your body goes to work to rebuild your muscle, which in turn increases the strength of your muscle. Those individuals who incorporated stretching into their regular exercise routine had increased strength over time because of it. By using stretching to increase your flexibility and range of motion, you can increase your athletic performance overall. Even though we know that static stretching isn’t the best choice immediately before working out, incorporating it in your routine to increase flexibility and range of motion can improve your overall performance when you lift weights. For example, by increasing the range of motion in your hip flexors, you will be able to reach a deeper squat.
What if your goal doesn’t involve lifting weights or running at all? What if you are aiming to increase flexibility and range of motion for any other activity, like yoga class? In this situation, static stretching is a good choice for you. It is important to never stretch a “cold muscle”, but by doing static stretching when your muscles are activated and warm, studies have shown that both flexibility and range of motion are improved. One study looked at individuals performing static leg stretches once per week, three times per week, and five times per week to see how this affected their flexibility and overall tightness of their hamstring muscle. The results showed that individuals who performed stretches three and five times a week showed improvements in hamstring flexibility and muscle tightness by the end of the study.
Other benefits to stretching include increased alertness throughout the day, better balance, relief from soreness and decreased stress levels, and even lowering blood sugar! When you stretch, whether static or dynamic, you are increasing blood flow to not only the muscles you are stretching, but to your entire body! By taking a short ten-minute break to stretch in the early afternoon, you can increase blood flow to your brain, which will help wake you up and feel less sluggish. This increased blood flow is also what can help lower our blood sugar. Studies have shown that individuals with Type 2 Diabetes had lower blood sugars when checked 40 minutes after stretching. Stretching also helps develop fine muscle coordination, meaning you will better be able to control you body and small adjustments to help you maintain better balance. When we train, we contract our muscles over and over again; so it makes sense that by taking Stretching does the obvious for our bodies, but it also helps our minds relax, which can help decrease stress levels throughout the day.
While there are many benefits to stretching, it’s also important to remember that when not done properly it can cause injury. Always remember to stretch both sides of your body equally. I know this sounds like common sense, but it is important to say! Having equal flexibility on both sides of your body will allow for equal range of motion and decrease your chances of injury. When stretching, it’s important not to “bounce” in the stretch. Some people do this to try to get a deeper stretch, but bouncing in your stretch can actually cause damage to your muscle and contribute to increased muscle tightness. And finally, remember to keep it up! As the old saying goes, if you don’t use it, you lose it! Aim to stretch 2-3 times per week and keep up that routine. As you become more flexible, you can increase your stretching to be daily! You don’t have to take much time from your day to get in an adequate stretch; it can be as little as 5-10 minutes per day.
By taking care of your mind and body through proper nutrition and exercise, you can take steps to leading a healthy and happy life. No matter what your lifestyle or fitness goals, stretching on a regular basis is great for your physical and mental health.
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