So you’re primed and ready to begin your workout. You’ve got
your workout playlist pumping, your shoes are laced up, and you’re
in the zone. It’s at this moment most people jump straight into
their workout, maybe doing a couple perfunctory stretches for a couple
seconds. Here’s the problem—stretching is
just as important as working out! Just like you wouldn’t ignore cardio or hydration
for your workout, don’t ignore stretching.
Stretching helps counteract the tightness and atrophy that our bodies experience
while sitting at a desk. Poor posture or doing the same activity day after
day leads to overdevelopment of some muscles and underdevelopment of others.
For example, working at a computer too often without stretching leads
to tight chest muscles that give the shoulders a hunched appearance. This
imbalance caused by muscle tightness stresses other joints and muscles,
leading to common problems like lower back pain.
Your mind and your body need the precious few minutes before and after
a workout to stretch and loosen, helping you avoid injury while providing
some relief from pain and soreness. To explain how, we need to distinguish
between two different kinds of stretching (and their uses): dynamic vs.
Before You Start, Do Dynamic Stretching!
Dynamic stretching is when you gently move your joints through their full
range of motion. This could including swinging your leg back and forth
to warm up your glutes and hamstrings, or swinging your arms across your
body to stretch out your chest and back. Dynamic stretching is the ideal
pre-workout stretch because it involves
movement, which means you’re preparing your joints and muscles for the workout.
Dynamic stretching offers the following benefits:
●Increases your muscle elasticity
●Prepares your muscles for activity
●Prevents injury during workout
●Prepares your mind for intense exertion
●Improves range of motion
●Helps you spot joint weakness before exertion
After You’re Done, Do Static Stretching
Static stretching is the “classic” stretching you were probably
taught to do during P.E. before playing sports. Toe touches, hamstring
stretches, one-leg pulls—any stretch that forces you to hold a position
for an extended period of time to increase flexibility is a static stretch.
It’s actually highly beneficial...but not before a workout. It’s
post-workout activity. Here’s why: working out tightens your muscles as they have been
contracting over and over for an extended period. That sort of muscle
tightness is part of what causes soreness later—your muscles are
constantly pulling on you, limiting your movement until you warm up your
Static stretching stretches out those tight muscles, helping them form
their natural shape once again. A few minutes of stretching can actually
reduce and prevent soreness later, shortening your period of soreness
from a few days to just a few hours. It’s also a great way to reduce
muscle pain. Stretching your muscles and holding the stretch lowers your
muscle’s core temperature and deadens your nerves slightly, creating
natural pain relief.
On a mental level, stretching is also a great way to calm your mind. Taking
a few minutes to focus your mind and body on a single pose is what makes
yoga such a powerful and popular exercise. The same principle exists in
static stretching. It gives you a few moments to lower your heart rate
and relax, soaking in the natural high that comes from physical performance.
Flexibility IS Strength
Stretching, whether it’s static or dynamic, leads to increased joint
flexibility. Flexibility is not simply the ability to bend or reach further
than you used to—it’s a way of measuring your body’s
functional strength in multiple positions. Spending time on improving
your body’s mobility helps you remain strong and stable in positions
that might normally cause injury.
Ultimately, that’s why stretching matters. By keeping your body loose
and elastic, it shortens the list of potential injuries you could experience.
Strains and sprains are largely preventable—they happen because
people tend to only prepare their body for a narrow range of motion. That’s
not how we move in nature, so it isn’t how you should limit your
body in the gym.
This article contains general information about medical conditions and
treatment. This information is not to be treated as medical advice. Inquiries
about your health should be consulted with a healthcare provider.