What is it that makes stretching so pleasant and relaxing that you keep doing it?
We asked experts to discuss several reasons why stretching feels so good.
Here are their insights:
Loren M. Fishman, MD, B.Phil.,(oxon.)
Medical Director, Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Stretching feels good for several reasons:
Stretching improves circulation
There is an engineering defect in man, in fact in all animals: the capillaries that bring oxygen, glucose, and every other necessity to muscle cells shrink when the muscle contracts.
At the very moment that the muscle is working, and most in need of oxygen, glucose and the rest, and most urgently needs to rid itself of the toxic products of metabolism, the capillaries are least able to provide it.
Stretching the muscle reverses that and the muscle gets what it needs and rids itself of what it doesn’t need. That may be one reason stretching can feel good.
Stretching stimulates relaxation
Small nerve cells within the muscle send signals to the brain’s relaxation centers (among others) which create a measurable relaxation the follows stretching the muscle and tendon for about 60 – 90 seconds. Another reason stretching feels good.
Stretching reverses muscle contraction
Muscles act by contracting. Stretching them does something unfamiliar and reverses any unnecessary chronic contraction– tension — that so many of us have in so many muscles.
Dr. Grayson Wickham, PT, DPT, CSCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy | Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist | Founder, Movement Vault
Stretching out decrease muscle compensation and decrease pain
The answer as to why stretching feels so good boils down to the reason why we need to stretch in the first place.
Most people today suffer from tight muscles and tight joints due to the way they live their day to day lives. Most people spend the majority of their day sitting and hunched over, whether it’s at work, in their car, or at home.
Our body conforms to the positions we spend the most time. This leads to tight muscles and tight joints. This tightness leads to compensations in other areas of the body, which can lead to pain and injury.
If a person has pain due to being tight in another area of their body, stretching out the tight muscle will decrease the compensation and then decrease their pain.
Being tight and stiff also limits movement and can cause a person to move in a suboptimal way. This suboptimal movement can also lead to pain and injury. Stretching out these specific areas can decrease this pain. Decreasing pain always feels good!
If performed correctly, active stretches can also increase active range of motion, which will allow you to move and perform better in life, and in the gym.
Stretching is going to feel good and alleviate pain anytime someone stretches out a tight muscle and/or fascia. This is due to increasing the length of the muscle/fascia and decreasing the tight pull in a specific area.
When you boil it down, stretching will increase your performance, decrease injury risk, and decrease pain. All three of these will increase a person’s quality of life, allowing them to feel awesome!
Primary Spine Practitioner | Certified Chiropractic Sports Practitioner |
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist | Emergency Medical Responder
Stretching release endorphins
When we perform physical activities our bodies, more specifically the pituitary gland releases endorphins. Stretching is just one of many activities that release these endorphins. Endorphins function as neurotransmitters and their structure is similar to morphine.
When endorphins are released we experience an analgesic effect. Essentially what happens is that when we stretch we activate signals to the brain that indicating pain or discomfort. This is referred to as nociception.
When we experience this, our bodies react by releasing endorphins that relieve the painful feeling and can activate a state of euphoria. When we stretch we are very mildly enacting this state and as such, we experience a pleasant feeling when we are stretching.
Personal Trainer | Weight Loss & Wellness Coach | World Champion Powerlifter
Stretching produce endorphins
Stretching feels good on several levels. On a macro level, a stretching session, like other exercises, causes the brain to produce endorphins which are chemically similar to opiates and which stimulate the brain’s pleasure centers.
Stretching stimulates nerve endings
On a micro level, the simple act of stretching stimulates nerve endings in the muscles which indicate that the muscle is moving properly, as opposed to ones that read pain if there is overstretching.
The muscles are supposed to be stretched within normal tolerances and ranges and the pleasurable sensation is the body’s way of ensuring that that movement is replicated.
Personal Trainer | Nutritionist, Truism Fitness
Stretching can have a positive effect on your day from the time you wake up to when you go to bed.
If you’re like most people you probably start the day by sitting up in bed, stretching your arms above your head and yawning. What most people don’t know is that this is called Pandiculation and it plays an important role in realigning your muscles after sleeping in one position all night and getting your blood flowing, since your heart rate is at its lowest right before you wake up.
Think of the morning stretch as your bodies cup of coffee, it has been proven to relieve stress, limbers you up. This perfect scenario of loose muscle increased blood flow, and good feelings are the best way to start the day.
Other ways stretching can help you throughout the day are:
Chronic stress can create a number of undesirable responses in your body, including anxiety, fatigue, and tension. Stretching throughout the day has shown to reduce mental tension, and when combined with breathing techniques is a great tool to counteract anxiety and depression.
Reduce pain and tightness
Static stretching has been shown and used by medical professionals as a way to reduce or eliminate excessive muscular tension and discomfort throughout the body. When done correctly on a daily basis it can decrease stiffness, reduce pain levels, and reduce the frequency of muscular cramps.
Improved mental and physical health
Regularly performing PNF stretching, static stretching and stretches from mind and body disciplines such as yoga, can help reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate. Counteracting the body’s physiological responses to stress and muscular tension.
Decrease the chance of injuries
The more flexible you are the more range of motion your limbs and major body parts have made it harder to injure yourself if you happen to fall, push yourself too hard during a workout, or accidentally put your body in an awkward position.
This is done by helping enhance the unrestricted movement of the major joints of the body, including key areas such as hips, shoulders, knees, and neck
When included as part of a well-rounded fitness routine, regular flexibility training including dynamic and static stretching can help increase agility, power, speed, and muscular strength.
Certified Yoga Instructor and Therapist
A few benefits of regular stretching include the following:
Stretching helps to relax tight muscles and enable them to elongate over time, leading to increased ROM (range of motion). Just as bodies need to rest, bodies need to put their joints through the fullest ROM or innate ability of each joint to move.
The more sedentary we are, the more stiff and tight our muscles and joints become. Thus, the true meaning of the well-known expression, “Move it or lose it!’
Reduced potential for injuries
When muscles and joints are properly “warmed up,” or stretched, the less like the chance of injuries.
Increased circulation throughout the body and to muscles
Stretching helps deliver vital blood supply and nutrients to our muscles, tissues, and cells to keep our bodies healthy. When muscles receive vital nutrients and blood flow, this also decreases muscle soreness.
I can highlight this benefit by personal experience. I have noticed throughout my teaching career that even standing or sitting up straight is an effort for many people.
An eighty-year-old former student of mine had a severe kyphotic (aka hunchback) posture and after taking her first class, she approached me after class and informed me she felt “taller!”
I have also heard this from many other students as well. Just bringing awareness to the way you sit, stand or move is a step in the right direction.
Stretching helps to calm the mind by increasing circulation to the brain that promotes a sense of well being and tranquility.
Also, the more you stretch, the more you are able to relax tense, tight muscles, thus releasing tension in the body. Yogic breathing techniques are also effective for tension release.
Relieving back pain
Throughout my teaching career and working as a Yoga Therapist, I have noticed an increase in students attending my classes complaining of back pain.
Regular stretching helps to relieve back pain by releasing tension in the muscles supporting the spine, and strengthening those muscles with specific stretching and strengthening exercises.
Also, and just as important to back health, are practicing core strengthening exercises such as sit-ups, and poses such as Navasana, or “Boat Pose.” When the abs are weak, the body compensates by overusing the even weaker back muscles, often resulting in injuries.
Lisa Reed, MS, CSCS, USAW
Owner, Lisa Reed Fitness LLC
Stretch for success
To be successful you have to feel good…But many of us adopt unhealthy habits like slouching as you sit in your chair at work or in your car while driving. Add the fact we sit more than we stand, wrecks havoc on your entire body creating tight hips and glutes, weak core, increasing back and neck pain.
To make an impact on your health and succeed at living a fit life, you must learn how to stretch properly – and do it often! Here’s how:
First, make sure your posture is correct
Some benefits of good posture include increasing your metabolism, boost your concentration, realign your spine & shoulders, prevent low back pain by keeping abdominals engaged and increase your confidence.
Second, practice Breathing! (6-4-10 Method)
Inhale for 6 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, then exhale for 10 seconds. Conscious breathing puts you in touch with your body and muscles and calms your parasympathetic neurons in the brain.
That will help you focus on the muscle you are about to stretch! (And don’t forget to breathe deeply as you stretch, just like when you exercise!)
Practicing proper breathing will keep you calm but focused before and after any work event or workout, and it will also help you remember to breathe during workouts and stretching!
Being stretched will not only increase your flexibility, mobility, and range of motion in your joints, but it will also give you a boost of energy and increase your creativity, resulting in success!
Vivian Eisenstadt, MAPT, CPT, MASP
Physical Therapist | CEO, Vivie Therapy
Stretching releases nerve pressure and improves circulation
Nerves go through muscles to get to areas of the body that are far from the spine. When muscles and ligaments are tight, they constrict, compress and irritate the nerves that go through the tight areas, resulting in irritation and pain in those areas that the nerves innervate.
When you stretch, you release the undue pressure to those nerves and thereby release the feeling of “tightness and pain”. Also, blood vessels get constructed through tight areas, disallowing new blood and nutrients through those areas. Stretching allows new blood an increased circulation to areas that need it so they can get oxygen and nutrients.
Anthony Kouri, M.D.
Orthopedic Surgeon, University of Toledo Medical Center
Slow, deliberate stretching helps lower blood pressure and reduce the breathing rate
We have all noticed that stretching after a night’s sleep or after sitting for a long period of time feels good. The reason for this is physiological. When we sleep, waste products tend to accumulate in the muscles.
By stretching, we compress the veins, which increases pressure, and removes the toxic buildup in our muscles. Blood flow also increases the muscle, bringing fresh blood with nutrients and proteins. Stretching activates our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and increases the number of endorphins, which make us feel good and relaxed.
Stretching also helps to mentally prepare us for the day
It helps us to focus on our body and regroup before we embark on the day. When we wake up, immediately jump out of bed, and rush through the morning, we neglect the parasympathetic nervous system. In turn, we are neglecting rest and recovery.
Stretching allows us time to rebalance and helps relax our mind and body prior to a hectic day.
Yoga, Mindful Movement & Lifestyle Expert | International Speaker | CEO, Mother Trucker Yoga
Stretching feels so good for a number of reasons.
On a personal level, as someone who has been practicing and teaching yoga for almost 20 years, yoga helped assist me in learning to feel in my body again. Yoga found me knee-deep in an eating disorder, numb of all feeling and internal connection.
Slow mindful stretching has a way of taking you by the hand and asking you to be with all feelings no matter how large or small. Sit with them, and breathe. I believe stretching feels so good because when you are present with what is going on in the body it no longer is the enemy.
And it is in my own experiences teaching and practicing for thousands of hours over the years that the connecting of rewiring the brain and body back together is truly the ultimate experience.
Initially, stretching taught me that nothing lasts forever and the release afterward is so sweet because of my willingness to move through the uncomfortable sensations prior. Which I then used in my everyday life as I stepped into recovery.
Furthermore, stretching does actually help reconnect the brain and body back together!
There are ten times more proprioceptors (I call them the feelers that connect your body to your brain) in the fascia. This is the tissue that covers your body like a catsuit.
The same tissue that covers every muscle and every fiber of every muscle. The same fabric like a blob that in utero, your teeny, tiny arms and legs popped out of creating the body you now live in. This highly sensitive tissue helps your body come alive (again)!
One thing I have heard from countless students is the feeling of release in their own bodies aids to the sense that they now feel less stressed. This is not to say they walk away from the most flexible person physically. But it most certainly has fostered more pliability mentally and emotionally.
I believe as you being to free your body, you increase your range of motion which means you are moving more blood flow, more oxygen throughout your entire body and brain. And let’s be honest no one likes wearing anything that is five times too small, especially if that is the fabric of your own catsuit (body).
Stretching feels good because you are feeling and that is a good thing!
Katie Ziskind, LMFT
Owner, Wisdom Within Counseling
Stretching feels really good because it is a mind and body release
Stretching allows your mind to feel more relaxed and helps your muscles release tension builds up from your day and previous memory is. Stretching also relaxes your job, which can hold a lot of tightness if you’re a type a personality.
Stretching also helps to alleviate back pain, so after you shred she’ll have a boost of energy and you might even feel more excited about your life. Specifically, yoga therapy has been used with people with post-traumatic stress disorder to invite healing, relaxation skills, and positive imagery.
Overall, yoga therapy is it evidence-based technique that can be used with any age to promote relaxation. Also, stretching can be part of yoga therapy when combined with breathing. Stretching is really relaxing because it helps you get present in your body.
All through your day you might be looking at your smartphone and focusing on work, but stretching allows you to live right in this moment inside of your skin. Stretching allows you to feel beautiful we’re all releasing emotions rather than lifting weights, which leads to tightness.