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What Happens to Your Body When You Stretch

he candles have been blown out, the music's has been turned down low, and the lights are coming up up: Class is over and it's time for the stretch.

For some riders, the stretch is freebie time, a five-minute head start to get to the locker room and clean up before going back out into the world. But before you unclip and head for the door, consider the great things that happen when you take a few minutes to stretch it out.

Your muscles get longer and relax. Your muscles are made up of thick and thin myofilaments, which bunch up together and overlap when your muscle is contracted. When we stretch, the muscle begins to relax and elongate, lessening the areas of myofilament overlap. The fibers of your muscle stretch, and when they reach their max, the nearby connective tissue takes up the charge, allowing any stressed and jumbled fibers to fall back into line. Translation: This is why you're less sore the days after a good post-ride stretch, because you've aided your taxed muscles in healing themselves already. Good for you! Bonus: When you stretch consistently, you're increasing your flexibility.

Your heart rate comes down. In the first minute after stopping exercise, your heart rate decreases sharply. How quickly it slows to normal after that depends on your body makeup, muscle composition, and other factors, but no matter what, recovery takes time. Your heart needs a few minutes to chill out and make progress toward getting back to its normal working capacity, and your stretch session is the perfect time to keep moving in a gentle, intentional way.

Your blood gets moving. Your heart may have just been pumping hard while you put in your tap backs, but it's the stretch that's going to improve your circulation in the long run. When you take the time to lengthen and relax your muscles, your blood supply has the chance to circulate more freely and deliver nutrients and oxygen throughout your body.

You get time to reflect. Who's really in a hurry to get back to their smartphone and the hustle and bustle of daily life, anyway? You just worked hard physically and took some time for yourself — give yourself a few extra minutes to take deep breaths, slow down, and give yourself a mental (or physical, that's allowed, too) pat on the back for blocking time into your day to take care of you.

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