Stretching can be very beneficial to athletes and non-athletes alike. Although some of stretching's benefits apply primarily to athletes, others apply to both athletes and non-athletes. Proper stretching technique is important no matter what level of physical activity you engage in, from a light jog once or twice a week to hours of rigorous training every day. Therefore, if you are unfamiliar with how to stretch correctly, you should have a qualified instructor or personal trainer guide you, since improper stretching can increase your risk of injury.
An athlete – of any age or competition level – who is careful to warm up and stretch out before a competition or practice will likely improve his performance in several ways. For example, stretching allows all the athlete's limbs to reach their full range of motion without any unnecessary effort or discomfort. This allows the athlete to run faster, jump higher and move more quickly than he would otherwise be able to. Additionally, this improved range of motion reduces the possibility of a serious injury from a fall, collision or other accident. Of course, many of these benefits apply to an individual who exercises simply for fun or fitness as well.
One factor that an athlete must consider, and that will not generally be a quite as significant of a consideration for a non-athlete, is the difference between dynamic and static stretching. Dynamic stretches involve repeatedly moving a particular body part through a set motion, which helps warm up the athlete and increase his heart rate while stretching him out. Static stretches, on the other hand, involve placing steady, gradual pressure on a body part to loosen it. Although static stretching can be beneficial as part of a cool-down routine, it can actually decrease muscular strength and performance for a short time, according to Therapeutic Associates. Dynamic stretches are generally preferable, therefore, for an athlete's pre-competition warmup.
Stretching also provides certain unique benefits to individuals who are not involved in athletic competition or strenuous physical activity. For example, bone-related disorders, such as osteoporosis and arthritis, are fairly common maladies, especially during the aging process. Maintaining a regular stretching routine can help reduce your risk for these conditions, and can help you manage them after they develop. If you already have some type of bone disorder, you should follow your doctor's guidelines regarding which stretches will work for you.
Stretching can benefit you in several other ways as well, even if you do not compete as an athlete. For example, it can help improve posture and reduce general aches and pains, according to MSNBC's Smart Fitness. It can also help individuals who are too weak or out of shape to perform a more intense workout begin to improve their strength. This can help them gradually reach a point where they can begin to attempt more challenging exercise routines.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Flexibility Exercises for Young Athletes
Stretching World: How Stretching Increases Athletic Performance
Top End Sports: Stretching for Sport
Therapeutic Associates: Dynamic Flexibility vs. Static Stretching for Warm Up
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; Osteoporosis and Arthritis: Two Common but Different Conditions
MSNBC: Stretching May Offer Extended Benefits