When we are crunched for time, often the first aspect of our workout that gets cut short is our stretching routine. After all, we’re not going to lose weight by stretching, so it can’t be that important right? Wrong! Stretching is crucial if we want to maintain a healthy, active body in the long term.
Here are 4 tips and facts that will help you maximize your stretching routine and allow you to understand why stretching is so important:
1. There is More Than One Way to Stretch
When thinking of stretching, what comes to mind to many of us is the act of holding a specific stretch pose (say a quad stretch) for an extended period of time before moving on to the next stretch.
However, the reality is that this method of stretching is only one of the many ways for us to improve our flexibility. Other increasingly popular forms of stretching include dynamic stretches, which can be used as a great way to warm up our bodies before we begin our workout. Dynamic stretches use our body’s momentum and force production to take joints through their full available range of motion.
Dynamic stretches work best as a warm up when they mimic at a less strenuous level the movements that we plan to execute in the main portion of our workout. Say you’re planning on doing some heavy weighted back squats during your workout, in this case your dynamic stretch sequence in the warm up should incorporate a similar bodyweight movement such as bodyweight squats.
By performing a few sets (two to three) of bodyweight squats, you will give your neuromuscular system a chance to practice properly activating the appropriate muscles that it will later have to recruit during your back squats under the heavy load of a Barbell.
2. Incorporate Self-Myofascial Release (a.k.a. Foam Rolling)
Before and after your workout, it is crucial that you foam roll the main muscle groups where you feel extra muscle tension to dissolve any adhesions (commonly referred to as “knots”) that may have built up within your muscle fibers. By foam rolling these areas of tension, you will bring your muscle fibers back into straight alignment allowing your neuromuscular system to effectively activate the right muscles for each exercise during your workout.
We can only effectively target and strengthen specific body parts if our body activates the right muscle groups during exercise. If done regularly, foam rolling can help alleviate muscle tension and also help prevent excess soreness after a workout.
Tips for becoming a foam-rolling champ: focus on rolling out the big muscle groups; including your quads, your hamstrings, your thoracic spine (upper back), your gluts, your inner and outer thighs, and your calves.
Avoid foam rolling sensitive areas such as your lower back and the back of your neck. When foam rolling, focus on applying pressure to areas that feel extra tense: when you find an area of tension, apply pressure for at least 30 seconds. This will give your brain enough time to register the tension and send a signal to your body that tells your muscles to relax.
3. Stretching Can Help You Maintain Flexibility As You Age
As we get older, we often become less flexible due to reduced range of motion in our joints. To prevent this reduced flexibility that can lead to injury and decreased quality of living later in life, it is crucial for us to start working on our flexibility in our 20s and 30s. This is why it’s important to get into the habit of stretching on a daily basis. Plan to set aside five to 10 minutes for stretching at the beginning of your workout as well as five to 10 minutes at the end.
At the beginning of your workout, you want to focus on warming up with foam rolling and dynamic stretches that will prepare your body for movement. Whereas, at the end of your workout you want to focus on cooling down with foam rolling and static stretches that will help your body relax and begin the recovery process.
4. Regular Stretching Trains Your Muscles to Work More Efficiently
Flexibility is defined as “the normal extensibility of all soft tissues that allows the full range of motion of a joint.” If you do not practice regular stretching before and after your workout, you will lose flexibility and your muscles will no longer be able to move through their full range of motion. If you do not regularly stretch a muscle and it is tight, the muscle will not be able to properly activate during an exercise, and your body will compensate by putting more pressure on other muscles to complete the movement.
For example, if you are working on your deadlifts in an attempt to strengthen and perk-up your glutes, but your glutes are not able to activate properly due to muscle imbalances, your body will compensate by using your lower back muscles to complete the movement instead; this can lead to lower back pain. Muscle imbalances are caused by a variety of issues, including poor posture, stress, repetitive movement, injury, and (of course) poor flexibility. Practicing a daily stretching regimen can prevent muscle imbalances and, if done regularly, over time could even correct posture and alleviate symptoms such as back pain.
My hope is that this article will convince you to spend a few extra minutes stretching on your yoga mat before and after your workout. If you want more information on how to start a personalized stretching routine, ask Complete Body’s trainers.
Written by: Isabella Broggini
Fitness Enthusiast, Health Nut, Animal-lover, Tree-hugger, Personal Trainer, and Freelance Journalist.