Most people whom workout today don’t think about flexibility and range of motion when they exercise. Especially for men it’s more about strength, how much weight they can lift and how big their muscles are. For most women, it’s about burning calories through aerobics and cardio. Regardless of your gender you should always include stretching before and after your workout.
When you don’t stretch, the muscles stay shortened and tight due to the increased load from your workout. Exercise repeatedly shortens the muscles. Muscle tightness leads to a lack of flexibility and decreased range of motion. Up to 60% of our population suffers from low back pain and knee pain due to tight hamstrings and hip flexors. When the body has decreased range of motion you are more likely to see health problems and injuries. When you increase your flexibility the body moves more efficiently, you have increased range of motion, increased balance, and coordination; decreased risk of injury and the body recovers from workouts more quickly.
Flexibility means being able to bend repeatedly without injury or damage. In regards to the body, flexibility means being able to move joints and muscles through their full range of motion. Tighten muscles and fixed joints limit the range of motion and the ability to move. To counter tight muscles you need to stretch all the major muscle groups, i.e. Arms, back, hips, thighs and calves.
Everything in the body is connected, so by stretching all the muscles you eliminate all the body’s restrictions. Only stretching single muscles will alleviate tightness for the time being however the muscles will surely tighten back up. For example if you only stretch the quadriceps and leave the opposite and neighboring muscles tight (i.e. The hamstrings, hip flexors and calves) the quadriceps will tighten back up because the other muscles will pull on the now relaxed muscle. Stretching opposite muscle groups is also very important because you strengthen and loosen the body evenly. If one muscle group is tightened and it’s opposite muscle group are loose you leave the tightened muscles at risk for injury. For example if the low back is overly tight (which for many people is a source of pain and discomfort when they workout) and the abdominals are relaxed, the low back is at risk for injury. Both muscle groups should be equally stretched to balance out the body. That’s why stretching increases the bodies flexibility and ultimately balance and coordination.
Stretching should be done both before and after exercise. Warm up the muscle by walking for 5 minutes before you stretch. It’s easier to stretch and loosen up warm muscle and it decreases the risk of injury. Stretch slowly and make sure you breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Never hold your breath while stretching. As you breath out you should be able to further your stretch just slightly to increase your flexibility. Don’t push your body further than it can go, or else you can hurt yourself. As you continue to stretch and workout you will notice your flexibility increase.
There are all types of stretching. Most commonly used is static stretching. Everyone should be able to do general static stretching, which involves no motion. However other types of stretching such as active isolated stretching is used with athletes, massage therapists, and personal or athletic trainers to increase the bodies ability to heal itself and restore function to the body. Other types of stretching such as dynamic stretching involve motion to gradually increase ones reach and speed of movement. Ballistic stretching uses the momentum of a moving body to increase range of motion. Other types of stretching include active stretching, passive, isometric, and PNF stretching. Determine what stretching type your body needs to heal and repair itself so you can continue to get stronger, healthier and more flexible.

Author's Bio: 

Sarah Labdar graduated with a BA in exercise science and has worked in the medical field since. Her focus is alternative medicine and how it interacts and works in conjunction with traditional medicine.
Better Health-Live your Life to the fullest!