Why Stretching Is Important
What are the benefits of stretching before exercise? Simply put, when stretching is done properly, it improves our tissue quality. Not to mention stretching improves our flexibility. If we don't improve or maintain tissue quality in our bodies, there is a greater potential for injuries the muscles during our workouts.
There are two main types of stretching and many people are confused about what they are and when to do them. If you're doing the right stretches at the right times, you improve your tissue quality and enhance your workouts so that you get the best chance at a tone body with no injury.
While it's incredibly simple to do and far to easy to confuse, the benefits of stretching before exercise just can't be overlooked. It is something that you must do. You have to condition your body and prepare it for the workout you're about to put it through.
Think of a cold rubber band, if you pull that rubber band tight while it's cold...it has an increased chance of snapping and leaving a ginormous welt on your finger. It loses elasticity when it's cold. Your muscles and tissues kind of work the same way. You need to warm them up first before you start stretching and working them.
Before you start your workout, you want to mobilize your joints putting them through their full range of motion. With dynamic stretching, the benefits of stretching before exercise include firing up your nervous system so that your body is ready to start lifting some heavy weights without snapping like a rubber band.
Doing dynamic stretches raises the temperature of your muscles and gets your nervous system ramped up and ready to lift. By the time you start your first rep, your body is warmed up and ready to go. Dynamic stretching should always be done before you start your workout.
- Neck rolls: Relax your neck letting your head hang down in front. Slowly roll your neck letting your head roll over your shoulder, behind, and back to the front. The idea is to put your neck through it's full range of motion to warm it up.
- Shoulder rolls: Relax your arms and shoulders. Slowly roll your shoulders backward several times and then forward several times putting your shoulders through their full range of motion.
- Arm circles: Extend your arms out to your sides like you're getting ready to take flight. Move your hands in circles first frontward, then backward as if you were cleaning your windows...only...sideways.
- Spiderman Walks: Walk forward lowering into a lunge with each step to warm up your hips, knees, and ankles.
Static stretching is simply stretching a specific muscle and holding the stretch. Some people tend to bounce a little bit when stretching, you really want to try not to do that as it can risk an injury. Static stretching acts to dull the nervous system.
Sometimes when we're trying to work out, the wrong muscle groups get involved. My most common experience with this is when I'm trying to do abdominal workouts. I'm supposed to engage my abs on those but often times I find that my back muscles are taking over and doing all the work. When this happens, that's the best time to do some static stretches for the back muscles.
It's your way of telling them to butt out and let your abs do their job. More common examples include when you're doing squats. Often times our quads like to dominate squats when it should be our glutes and hamstrings working those. So in this case we would want to doing some static stretching on our quads to lower their nervous involvement. This would let us engage the right muscle groups for the work.
After your workout when you no longer need the nervous system to be stimulated, you want to do some good static stretches to basically tell your muscles it's time to clock out and go home. They can relax now.
- Forehand Stretch: This is where you put the tips of your fingers against the very edge of a corner and turn your body away from the corner slowly. You don't want to bounce, just stretch slow and hold for about 8 - 10 seconds. This stretches your wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Repeat for the other side.
- Backhand Stretch: Extend your arm out in front of you with your fingers straight and pointing away from you. Pull your arm across your body holding your elbow with the other hand. Hold the stretch without bouncing and repeat for the other side. This stretches your shoulders and upper arms.
- Rotator Cuff Stretch: Using a small towel or resistance bands, hold one end of the bands in each hand pulling them tight. Raise your arms over your head and back behind your head until you feel a good stretch in your shoulders. Remember not to bounce, this is important, hold the stretch still so you don't strain the muscles.
- Hook Shot Stretch: Stand with you feet shoulder width apart. Put one hand on your hip. Raise the other arm over your head and bend sideways in the opposite direction keeping your back straight so that the raised arm comes over your head and points to the opposite side.
- Elbow Grab: Raise your arm above your head. Bend your elbow so that your hand goes down behind your head as if you were going to scratch between your shoulder blades. Place the opposite hand on the elbow and apply just enough pressure to feel the stretch in your triceps. Repeat for the opposite side.
- Human Pretzel: Sit down on the floor and extend your legs in front of you. Lean on one arm behind your back. Lift the leg on the same side and place the foot on the opposite side of the leg that's laying flat on the floor. Extend the opposite arm so that your elbow is on the opposite side of your bent knee. Press the elbow and knee against each other until you feel the stretch in your lower back. Repeat for the opposite side.
- Twister Stretch: Stand up on one foot and extend the opposite arm out beside you for balance. Lift your other knee and twist it toward your body pulling it gently with your opposite hand until you feel stretching in your lower back and glutes.
- Hamstring Stretch: Sit down on the floor with both legs extended in front of you with your knees together. Bend forward to touch your toes until you feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Hold the stretch for 8 - 10 seconds without bouncing (notice a pattern?).
- Standing Quad Stretch: Stand near a wall or something sturdy to hold onto for balance if needed. Lift one leg behind you holding your foot around the ankle. Push your knee backward until you feel the stretch in your quad muscle and hold. Repeat for the opposite leg.
- Lunge Stretch: Bend one knee to a 90 degree angle leaning over it while extending your other leg behind you to stretch the inner thighs. Repeat for the opposite leg.
- Seated Adductor Stretch: Sit down on the floor and bend your knees to the side putting the bottoms of your feet together in front of you. Hold your ankles with your hands gently pressing your knees down with your elbows until you feel a gentle stretch in your thighs and groin.
- Standing Adductor Stretch: Extend one leg out behind you and to the side slightly pointing your toes away from your body. Bend the other knee leaning forward to touch the floor until you feel stretching in the inside of your thigh. Repeat on the opposite leg.
- Standing Glute Stretch: Do this stretch near a wall or something sturdy if you don't have good balance. Stand on one foot and pull the other leg up with your knee bent so that your leg crosses in front of you while holding your ankle with the opposite hand until you feel stretching in your glute. Repeat for the opposite side.
- Seated Glute Stretch: Sitting down on the floor, extend one leg out in front of you. Bend your knee pulling your ankle up toward your body with your arm crossed under your leg until you feel stretching in your glute. Repeat for the opposite side.
- Calf Stretch: Standing in front of a wall, extend one leg behind you with your foot flat on the floor. Bend the other knee leaning forward slightly to stretch the calf in that back leg. Repeat for the other leg.
- Standing Hamstring Stretch: Standing with your feet together, carefully bend forward and put your hands on the floor raising your butt to form an arch until you feel your hamstrings stretch gently. Hold for 8 - 10 seconds.
So in summary, remember that it's important to warm up because the benefits of stretching before exercise involves dynamic stretching to put your joints through their full range of motion and kick your nervous system into gear. During your workout, use static stretching to calm the muscles when they're trying to take over the workout for the correct muscles. And finally, statically stretch each muscle group after your work out to disengage the nervous system and relax.
Now go kick some ass!