I am a big proponent of stretching (I should do more of it myself actually). Why stretch? Stretching before a workout increases blood flow to the muscles and sends out the synovial fluid necessary for lubricating your joints. It also increases your range of motion. Knowing WHEN to stretch during your workout however, can be confusing. At the gym, I often see people walking from the front door and straight to the stretching machine. I can picture their muscles as cold rubber bands being stretched to the max.This is not a good idea.
You must stretch at the right time. Ideally, you should begin your workout with a warm-up – literally moving your body to warm it up. This can be done on a machine like the elliptical, treadmill or by simply jogging in place. If you are a runner, start with a brisk walk for and ease into a jog. The warm- up should last at least 3-4 min. The point is to get that warm feeling in your muscles. Once you have warmed up, then begin your stretches.
The stretches you do depend on your workout for that day. Say you are doing resistance training for the lower body – ease into it with basic squats, walking lunges, side lunges and make sure to hold for about 30 seconds to get the full effect. If it is your day for upper body training, do some arm circles, light stretching of the triceps, shoulder, chest before you begin. On days when it is strictly cardio, incorporate a few of the above moves for an overall stretch.
After your workout is also a good time to let those warm muscles stretch and relax. Holding those stretches a little bit longer will improve your flexibility, which gives us those long lean muscles we all want.
Stretching may not be your magic pill for easing post-workout soreness though. The tiny tears in your muscles from a strenuous workout need great nutrition and rest to recover. However, I do advise using a foam roller if you experience soreness the next day – I love the foam roller – hmm.. another post idea.
Lastly, make sure to only do static stretches – no bouncy movements. Also don’t neglect those wrists after a tough upper body workout.
So get stretching before AND after your next workout to keep your workouts well rounded and you as fit as possible.