December 17, 2018
Stretching is an important part of any workout plan, but it’s also the part most of us skip. We generate the energy to show up at the gym, power through our workouts, and carry on with the checklists of our days. Finding the extra time and motivation to add stretching to that routine can be a challenge. Maybe you’d like to, but don’t know where to start. Why should you stretch? When should you stretch? What stretches should you do? To help you answer some of those questions, I’ve compiled a quick guide for anyone looking to add flexibility gains to their fitness goals.
Why Should You Stretch? Because the Benefits are Worth It
Stretching maximizes your fitness goals and helps to improve your overall health and wellness. When we perform flexibility-enhancing movements, we also assist our bodies in their natural recovery processes. Some of the benefits of stretching include:
- Improved range of motion or enhanced flexibility
- Increased blood flow to muscles
- Improved muscular balance
- Reduced soreness
- Reduced risk of injury
- Improved posture
- Improved breathing
- Enhanced quality of sleep
- Improved physical performance
When Should You Stretch? Before & After
There are benefits to pre- and post-workout stretching; however, research shows that dynamic stretching is best before you train while static stretching is best done afterward. Incorporating dynamic (moving) stretches into your warmup can help your joints and muscles prepare for movement during the workout, especially if that workout includes heavy lifting or plyometrics. Try the following moves for an effective warmup. Complete 5-10 repetitions of each, balancing your work on each leg or arm. Remember to keep your movements slow and controlled.
Dynamic Stretch Warmup:
- Hip Hinges
- Leg Swings
- Rear Lunges
- Side Lunges
- Cat-Cow Stretches
- Arm Swings (with full shoulder rotation)
After a workout, our muscles are usually tight and shortened from contracting. This is an ideal time to practice a form of self-myofascial release (SMR) popularly known as foam rolling. When our muscles are in a short and tense state, they lack healthy blood flow and its circulation of nutrients. They are also unable to adequately remove waste products that lead to muscle soreness. Foam rolling helps to relax the muscles, massaging away tension in the nerves and connective tissue. Great for post-workout or rest day recovery, foam rolling is also an effective precursor to static (holding) stretching. Here are some benefits of foam rolling:
- Loosens tight muscles
- Releases tension in trigger points and muscle knots
- Eases muscle soreness
- Corrects muscle imbalance
- Increases range of motion
- Helps to prevent injury
Static stretches are important for developing and maintaining flexibility. Best done after a workout when your body and muscles are warm, these are the moves most of us envision when we think about stretching. Deep lunges, butterfly stretches, quad stretches ring any bells? These moves require us to hold our weight in a position of suspension or across various planes of the body. It’s important to a take a slow and controlled approach to static stretching, gradually deepening in a stretch over time.
What Stretches Should You Do? Give these a try!
- Lat Roll: Move the roller under lats, up and down, forward and back. Switch sides and repeat.
- Wrist Extension and Flexion: Extend left arm straight out at chest height. Push the palm forward and finger tips upward. Hold the finger tips with the right hand. Switch wrists and repeat. Next, extend left arm straight out at chest height. This time, turn the fingertips toward the ground. Switch wrists and repeat.
- Glutes Roll: Roll the body forward and back, hitting all parts of the glutes.
- Upper Back Roll: Roll up and down, upper- to mid-back, until muscles relax.
- Hip Flexors Roll: Place roller under hip flexors and roll up and down from hip to mid-thigh.
- Hamstrings Roll: Use bodyweight to roll out hamstrings from knees to butt, including the inner and outer areas. Do both sides.
- Neck Stretch: Tilt head to one side and allow it to fall with gravity. Rest hand on forehead but do not apply pressure. Repeat on opposite side.
- 90-90 Stretch: Create 90° angles with legs, one in front and one in back. Trying to keep the knee in contact with the ground, walk the hands away from the body, stretching forward. Switch legs and repeat.
[Demonstration picture goes here online]
How Often Should I Stretch? Regularly
Aim to stretch or foam roll 10 – 20 minutes 3 – 5 times each week. Spend about 1 minute on each move, roughly 30 seconds per side. Spend more time on areas that are very tight or sore.
- The best foam roller for you is based on your pain tolerance level and muscle tightness or soreness. Soft rollers are great for beginners, firmer rollers are ideal for intermediate levels, and ridged rollers are best for advanced athletes.
- As a beginner, aim for a 7 out of 10 on your pain scale. As you become more advanced, you can raise that to an 8. You should not perform foam rolling at a 10.
- Discomfort from foam rolling shouldn’t last longer than 30 minutes following a rolling session. You should feel limber and loose.
- Focus on form and control rather than speed and repetitions.
- Stay hydrated. One part of recovery is a release of waste produced during our workouts. Good hydration will assist your body in expelling toxins and repairing damaged muscle tissue.
Stretching at New Start Fitness
Catch a Stretch Workshop with me to learn more about active recovery and stretching exercises. Check out the schedule here.
- Stretch & Be Well! –