Between work commitments, grocery runs, and coffee dates, it feels like we barely have time to even make it to the gym. So when we do actually get our gear and go amid all these responsibilities (hello, 2019 New Year’s resolution), who can blame us for simply wanting to skip straight to cardio, burn as many calories as we can in 30 minutes, and then bounce? Unfortunately, this is a super ill-advised way to exercise, because it means you’re skimping on an essential part of the workout routine: stretching. Although adding a warmup might mean tacking an extra 20 minutes onto your workout (you can do it!), the numerous benefits should make integrating stretching into your gym time a no-brainer. Nichole Tipps — lead trainer for V Shred, a virtual fitness training program — offers us some insight about the importance of stretching.

A woman in a park smiles as she stretches her arms

1. Why to Stretch: It’s not just for gym rats. According to Tipps, all of us, no matter how athletically inclined, should be incorporating stretching into our schedules. “Many people ignore stretching when working out or just as a daily routine,” she says. “Stretching has an array of health benefits that serve as building blocks for longevity and physical well-being.” Stretching increases flexibility, which improves range of motion in addition to improving workouts, and it delays the effects of atrophy later in life. It also aids posture and relieves stress. In terms of exercising, stretching has advantages both pre- and post-workout. “Stretching increases blood flow to the muscles and improves your circulation,” explains Tipps. Because of this, failing to stretch beforehand can result in injury, and neglecting to do it afterward can lead to enhanced soreness and a longer recovery period. You’re also making yourself more susceptible to pain, inflammation, and tension in general, Tipps warns.

2. When to Stretch: Most people are at least vaguely aware of the benefits of stretching, but a lot of confusion surrounds when to actually do it during a workout. Contrary to popular belief, the heavy-duty stretching should be reserved for when you’ve finished exercising. “After your workout is a better time to stretch with more dedication,” Tipps confirms. “Your muscles are tense, and they are tired and stressed in a good way. So stretching can help relieve that tension and reduce the soreness that results from working a muscle.” Allot 10-15 minutes for these post-sweat stretches. Before your workout, simply stretch lightly, keeping the time to less than 10 minutes. “Ease your muscles into the idea that you will be challenging them to perform,” Tipps instructs.

3. What to Stretch: Both of these stretch seshes should always address your arms, legs, and back, regardless of what areas that workout focuses on. “There are different parts to each of these areas, so concentrate on those that your workout calls for that day, but don’t neglect everything else altogether either,” advises Tipps. “Remember, a lot of workout routines include compound exercises, which are multi-joint movements that work several muscles at one time.” Although stretching might initially seem like yet another chore to add to your to-do list, its benefits are invaluable enough to no longer ignore. As Tipps encourages, “Stretch regularly, and over time you will reap the benefits and maintain your mobility.”

What’s your favorite stretch? Let us know @BritandCo!

(Photo via Getty)