You’ve probably heard that you should always include stretching as part of your workout routine. But did you know there are actually better ways to stretch to get more results? That stretching at the wrong time or in the wrong way can actually lead to injury instead? Read on to learn all you need to know about pre workout stretches.
The Science Behind Stretching
Stretching is when your tendons and muscle fibers extend or lengthen. When you regularly stretch your muscles you can see natural benefits such as increased flexibility and range of motion — both of which will aid you in bodybuilding goals. Stretching also improves posture and helps wake up stiff muscles which is helpful when you workout first thing in the morning with stiff muscles. Studies have linked stretching to reduced back pain and less stress as well.
Stretching is actually linked to the nervous system as well. When you stretch, you are teaching your nervous system more pain tolerance and that it is okay to relax or hold your muscle in place for an amount of time, increasing your ability to stretch further as your nervous system is trained.
4 Types of Stretches
There are four types of stretches you can do, and they all have different benefits.
Static stretches are the most common stretches, and are what everyone thinks about when they hear the word “stretch.” In static stretches, you extend your muscle and hold for 30- 60 seconds. This type of stretch is a slower, more gradual stretch that improves flexibility. The typical touch your toes, overhead triceps stretch, or cobra pose. You can do static stretches with bands or extend and hold your muscles. With static stretches, inhale as you prepare to stretch, sending oxygen to the muscle. Exhale as you deepen into the stretch, using the fuel from your deep breath to increase your stretching ability. Just like lifting waits you exhale on exertion, when your body is working the hardest.
Static stretching is your go-to stretching for increased flexibility and motion.
Dynamic stretches differ from static stretching because dynamic stretching gets the body moving instead of holding a position. Dynamic stretches use a range of movement, such as jumping jacks, jogging in place, or arm circles. They are still a pre-workout or pre weight lifting stretch, but they have movement involved.
This type of stretching both warms up the body and loosens the muscles, working their full range of motion. With dynamic stretches, you’ll see an increase in agility and, depending on the type of workout you engage in, an increase in speed and acceleration as well.
Ballistic stretches are similar to dynamic stretches, but with added movement and bounce. Ballistic stretching includes fast movements and bouncing into and out of a stretch. It is forcing your muscle into an extended range of motion. It is a faster, more intense stretching movement. An example would be taking the static stretch of touching your toes, but jerking or bouncing towards your feet. Ballistic stretches are not highly recommended for people who aren’t very athletic.
Ballistic stretches extend the muscles and tendons through a larger range of movement then can be achieved in dynamic or static stretching. This type of stretching helps increase a greater range of motion in the muscles and allow you to jump higher or kick with more force.
PNF, or “Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation,” is an advanced form of flexibility stretching. It helps rehabilitate muscles. It involves the stretching and also the contracting of the targeted muscle. It is usually done with a partner and it is best to get guidance from a physical therapist or personal trainer before attempting PNF stretching.
Stretching Before or After a Workout, What’s Best?
What is better, stretching before or after a workout? The answer is both, actually. It’s not about whether you stretch before or after a workout, but what type of stretch you do and when.
Static stretches are better after your workout, as a way to cool down and help your muscles recover after an intense workout. Static stretching can aid in keeping the muscles from getting stiff after heavy lifting and can be done right before bed as well.
Dynamic stretches are best for pre workout stretches. They are a great way to warm up and get ready for your workout. They get your mind and body energized to jump right into the workout and loosen muscles, preparing them for activity.
Top 10 Most Beneficial Stretches to Avoid Injury
Here is a list of the top 5 static stretches to do after your workout, and the top 5 dynamic stretches to do before your workout:
- Seated Straddle. You have probably heard of this one. Sit on the floor or a mat with your legs in a V shape and your back straight. Point your toes to the ceiling. Lean your torso forward and reach with your hands to touch as far as you can on the spot in between your feet, hold for 15-30 seconds, and repeat two-four times. You should feel the stretch in your inner thighs, calves, and lower back.
- Cross Body Shoulder Stretch. Stand or sit with your back straight. Grab one arm above the elbow with your other arm, and pull it across your chest. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds. You should feel the stretch in your shoulder and upper arm. Repeat for the other arm.
- Recline Knee to Chest Stretch. Lay down on the mat, keeping your legs straight. Bend, and bring your left knee up and hold your shin with your hands. Gently pull your knee to your chest. Hold for 15-30 seconds then repeat for the right leg. You should feel the stretch in your glutes and abs.
- Cobra Pose. Lay down straight, with your stomach on the mat, with your hands under your shoulders. Keep your hips on the mat, but lift your upper body with your arms. Instead of only bending at the lower back, try to curve your body and keep your arms slightly bent. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat two-four times. You should feel the stretch in your abs and arms.
- Standing Toe Touch Stretch. Stand with your legs apart and straight. Lean down, while still keeping your legs straight and touch your toes. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat two-four times.
- Jumping Jacks. Classic stretch. Stand straight with your arms at your sides and your legs together. Bend your knees slightly and jump into the air. As you jump bring your arms together at the top of your head. Jump back to the starting position. Repeat 15-20 (or more) times.
- Arm Circles. Stand straight and extend your arms out to each side. Circle your arms, gradually making bigger and bigger circles. Repeat until you feel a stretch in your triceps. Then circle the other way.
- Side Lunge. Stand straight with both feet facing forward and take a wide step to the right. Bend your right leg as you move your hips back and put all your weight on your right foot. Press your right foot down to rise back into the starting position. Try not to arch your back, and breathe out as you lunge. Repeat stretch 10-15 times, and then switch legs.
- Leg Swings. Stand straight behind a chair with your legs hip-width apart. Hold the back of the chair with your left hand, and keep your left foot planted on the floor, and your right leg straight. Swing your right leg backward and forwards, and sideways, in front of your other leg, all while keeping your torso upright and straight. Swing your leg back and forth 15-30 times, then repeat with your left leg.
- High Knees. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lift your left knee to your chest. Bring it down and lift your right knee to your chest. Continue to lift your knees to your chest, alternating knees, and moving at jogging or running speed.
- Safety is important! A stretch should bring a little discomfort, but if there is a lot of pain don’t do the stretch and seek medical attention, if needed.
- Remember to breathe. To get the most out of your stretch try to breathe in and out through your nose rather than your mouth, and try to exhale longer than usual.
- Choose a variety of stretches. Those ten are great, but your body appreciates variety, and you want to make sure you are stretching all your muscles. If you are focusing on a certain muscle in your workout, you could focus on that muscle in your before and after a stretch as well. For example, if you are running, then warm up with some dynamic leg stretches and cool down with some static ones to get the most out of your workout. Still stretch other places, but really focus on the muscles you will be working out.