Stretching has been proven to enhance athletic performance, reduce the risk of injury during physical activities, improve flexibility, reduce stress, and increase circulation (among other benefits.) I also personally find that stretching helps calm the mind.
I have been fortunate enough to learn about stretching through taking and teaching Barre Classes. When I first started taking Barre classes 10 Years ago, I made the mistake of rushing through the stretches in class. I treated the stretching as a break from the “work.” Now, I understand that stretching is equally as important as the strength training and cardio portions of class. It is important to find a balance in your body between strength and flexibility. This is what gives Barre students long and lean muscles. In Barre class, as well as other types of exercise programs, incorporating stretching directly after working a muscle, really helps to lengthen that part of the body you are working on.
Once I really began to actively stretch, I quickly saw an improvement in my flexibility. I found as my flexibility increased, so did my strength. I was able to get into better alignment and work even harder. Just one example, a simple arm, shoulder, neck stretch that I added to my classes a few months ago, has GREATLY reduced the tightness and strain that I was constantly feeling in my head, neck, and shoulders. With that tightness gone, I am now able to complete more repetitions with weights and push-ups. Therefore, if you are taking Barre, or other interval training classes that incorporate a stretch, I recommend trying to focus as much attention on the strengthening as the stretching!