We’ve all been there: crunched for time, rushing through a workout, happy to make it to the gym at all, and trying to get in and out as fast as possible.
If you’re already on a time crunch, and let’s be honest, who isn’t, then cutting corners is likely something you do, either intentionally or not. Extras like stretching can easily go by the wayside, as you tell yourself you can skip either a pre-workout strength to warm up, or post workout stretch to cool down. Sound relatable?
What you might not realize though is that by skimping on stretching, you’re making yourself more susceptible to injuries, delayed soreness, and ultimately, getting way less bang for your buck with your workout itself.
Stretching is one of those “should do” things we all know, but do you know the extent of its benefits and when and how to stretch to get the most out of it, and your workout itself?
In a nutshell, stretching keeps muscles and tendons loose and flexible, and improves our range of motion.
A stiffer muscle is more likely to become pulled or injured, and it can prevent us from getting the full range of motion/benefits out of our workout movements. Cold, tight muscles can’t move fully the way they’re meant to, so your body will try to compensate by using different muscles than those intended to be targeted—AKA you won’t get the full results of a move.
Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscles, which in turn brings more nutrients to them. Have you ever skipped a stretch session and noticed your extra sore the next day? That could have been the reason. If you’re not stretching out your muscles, then you’re forcing the same sore muscles to work day in and day out without relief.
Stretching leads to a laundry list of other perks, including better posture, lessened back pain (which can actually come believe it or not from tight hamstrings), lower stress and greater relaxation, and less susceptibility to joint issues such as tennis elbow or runners’ knee.
The How and When of Stretching
You can find conflicting information out there on the nuts and bolts of how to stretch for the greatest benefit, but most experts agree that you should begin your workout with a dynamic stretch and cool down with static motions.
This can look like a few minutes of squats, lunges, jumping jacks, and wind-milling your arms before you begin. Your goal should be to get the blood pumping and your heart rate up. If you have specific areas that are tighter and sorer than others, you can focus on them here. Your goal is to keep active here, keep the heart rate up, and get your muscles and entire body moving.
After your workout, static stretching is your best bet. Many people make the mistake of doing static stretches beforehand, but some research has shown that this can actually make you more susceptible to pulling or tweaking a muscle. Static stretches are still, slow, and controlled, which makes sense to do at the end of your workout when you want to be bringing your heart rate back down and cooling off. You can hold a runner’s lunge, calf stretch, cat-cow stretches for your back, down dogs, and other movements—just make sure you hold each for 30 seconds or so and let your body gently relax into the pose.
Don’t forget—it’s never only what you do while working out, but what you preface and finish with that can make just as much if not more of a difference in the results you see and feel. So get loose, stretch those muscles, and better prepare your body to keep feeling today and tomorrow.
FITtec. – Fitness For Life