Most people like to save the last five minutes of their workout for a few lame stretches and then call it good. Some folks will just skip stretching altogether because they either don't like to do it, don't understand the benefits of doing it, or have some other reason for neglecting flexibility training.
Here are a few reasons stretching is so beneficial to your fitness program:
1) Stretching the whole body helps to increase a joint's range of motion. Why does this matter? Increasing the range of motion of a joint is vital to comfortable and correct form when lifting weights and performing other activities. Increasing the range of motion will help avoid injury, increase blood flow to the area and even ward off arthritis later down the line. In doing all of this, you will most likely feel more confident in increasing the amount of weight you lift because you won't have joint stiffness or pain hindering your range of motion.
2) Stretching may help decrease muscle soreness after a hard workout. Stretch your body only when it is warmed up- preferably after a 10 minute warmup where you raise your core body temperature, or immediately after your cardio or weight session. Never stretch when your body is cold and tight- you may snap something off!
3) Consistent flexibility training will also help maintain the normal functional length of all muscles. This is important if you are training to build more muscle because stretching opens up the tissues and allows for a more efficient range of motion when lifting and more blood flow to joints and muscles tissue which aids recovering and in turn, helps a muscle grow bigger and stronger. If you suffer from low back pain or sit at a desk all day, regular stretching becomes especially important.
Stretching can be painful if you haven't done it in awhile or you are not warmed up properly. Set aside a good 15-20 minutes after your regular workout to stretch your entire body. Find a quiet place to do this as effective stretching takes a conscious effort without distraction of any kind. You should breathe deeply when you stretch and hold the static stretch for 30 sec. to 1 minute or until the muscle begins to relax and loosen up. This may take longer than a minute, so be patient and learn to focus as much time to stretching as you do other aspects of your training. If you have knee, ankle or any joint issues be very careful when getting into a stretch.