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The Elongated Body: Balanced Flexibility
There’s no question about it: stretching enhances every aspect of fitness. It makes you stronger, more coordinated, more beautiful, gives you more stamina, and protects you from injury. Oh, and it increases flexibility too.
So why do most exercisers skip stretching? Here are the two reasons most often given: 1. “I need to lose some weight, so I’ve got to do cardio” and 2. “I’m just not flexible.” These explanations do make a certain amount of sense. We definitely need to prioritize our fitness goals, and we don’t enjoy being made to look bad in front of a bunch of gumbies.
The truth is, stretching does help you slim down by training your muscles to expand and contract more fully. That increased range of action then allows you to burn more calories while you’re working on strength and stamina. Even the very act of stretching burns calories. The next time you perform a stretch series, notice that your muscles warm up and your heart rate rises. Also as is widely-known, stretching calms you, thereby warding off bouts of stress-induced overeating.
If you’re one of those who don’t stretch to avoid looking foolish, you could be missing out on getting the edge on your true competitors, your opponents on the other side of the tennis net, for example. You only need to let go of the idea that stretching is only for ballerinas to tap into stretching’s tremendous powers to improve your game. In sports, being flexible enhances not only your range of motion but also your coordination, control, quickness and ability to turn on the afterburners when you need them. Add to the list the protection stretching gives you against throwing out your back or busting a hamstring. But try telling this to most amateur athletes, especially the guys!
The fallacy with these arguments becomes easier to detect once you ditch the temptation to make exercise a competitive sport and start thinking of flexibility training as an indirect path to ultimate victory.