Lots of reasons really. When it comes down to it sometimes just because it feels good. Look at cats or dogs after a period of immobility they have a lovely stretch when they get up, it just comes naturally. We are animals too and have the same needs because if you stay still for a long time, like too long in bed or a long car journey you feel pain in your muscles as tension builds, stopping the muscle working properly. So we use stretching instinctively to relieve the muscle tension and help the muscle function normally.
Stretches help correct postural imbalances and this is something we address in class. Because the way we stand or sit some muscles will become shortened and tightened the opposite muscles will become lengthened and need strengthening.
Muscles have an inbuilt protection mechanism (imagine the damage that could be done to a joint if you tried to catch a cricket ball and the muscles didn’t stop the joint being overextended). Sometimes you will notice we use techniques in class to overcome this as we need to let the muscles relax. One of these techniques my class members will be familiar with is ‘Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching’ but they are not very good at spelling so we’ll just call it PNF stretching for now.
Stretching mechanisms and muscle energy techniques will be used by therapists to maintain or improve the range of movement at a joint and this is particularly important if there has been a period of immobilisation and sometimes to combat the effects of muscle spasms and contractures. Stretches can help to facilitate muscle healing to help realign the muscle fibres as can massage.
Athletes will schedule a warm up and cool down component to their workout and it is inherent to any exercise class, including the ones I teach, as this lessens the likelihood of injury if the muscles are warmed up, stretched and taken through their range of movement before starting on the main routine. Stretching in class can help to make people feel relaxed and people have a sense of well being when they have stretched.