Today we will talk about why you should stretch before a workout. We do it because it increases joint range of motion, muscle length, and blood flow which in turn helps prevent injury and enhances performance. Plus, stretching helps relieve that tight feeling in our muscle like the ones we get from sitting all day or not getting enough sleep.
You can get your stretch warm-up from a variety of ways including yoga, pilates, or even playing a sport.
Before you start out for your workout, it’s important to do your warmup activities which include stretching and then get on your cardiovascular machine which includes walking or running for 20 minutes per day.
In this article we will discuss all the benefits of stretching above and more.
Why We Stretch
Before we get into stretching specifics, it helps to know first why you’re even supposed to stretch in the first place. If you’ve ever done an exercise routine without taking this very important step, then you already know how much better your results are when you take time for proper stretching beforehand. But if you thought it was just something you did because you were told to or out of courtesy, here’s a little more explanation on why you should consider stretching before each workout session.
What Is Stretching Anyway?
The term “stretch” has been around forever, but most people aren’t exactly sure what they mean by it. Just like any other muscle movement, there are three types of stretching: ballistic (flexing), static (holding) and dynamic (moving).
Ballistic stretching is usually reserved for warm-ups and cool downs while both static and dynamic stretches are used during actual workouts.
Static stretching refers to holding positions for long periods of time, which makes up 70% of all stretching sessions.
Dynamic stretching involves moving through full range motions such as squats and lunges, which make up 20%. In general, these two techniques don’t involve pain so you shouldn’t feel too guilty about them.
The main reason people skip stretching is because it feels uncomfortable at first. This discomfort comes from not warming up properly before exercising, and therefore muscles may become tight rather than loose.
When your body doesn’t have enough fluidity to move freely, its natural reaction is to tighten up. However, since many people think their bodies will hurt themselves if they spend extra energy loosening up, they tend to avoid stretching altogether. After a few weeks, however, those sore muscles won’t disappear unless you loosen things up a bit with some quality stretches.
Types of Stretching
As far as ballistic stretching goes, it takes longer to work effectively due to the fact that it uses less resistance compared to static stretching. As a result, athletes prefer static stretching over ballistic for best results. These same athletes would probably agree that skipping a pre-workout stretch leads to poor performance later on.
So now you know what stretching actually entails, let’s talk about different types of stretches.
Although most runners and swimmers use static stretching prior to practice, sprinters and jumpers should definitely incorporate ballistics stretches into their routines.
Jumping rope drills require quick movements within one’s own field of vision, making it difficult to maintain good form otherwise. Ballistic stretching helps improve coordination between opposing limbs and reduces risk of injuries caused by improper landing mechanics. Since jumping rope requires fast leg extensions and contractions, it also increases heart rate and raises blood pressure. Therefore, prepping yourself for optimal health and safety is essential.
In addition to improving overall flexibility, static stretching can help reduce stiffness and tension after vigorous activity. Some sports, such as basketball or tennis, rely heavily on players maintaining high levels of precision and control throughout entire practices.
Without adequate breaks to refresh joints and increase circulation, players can experience shortness of breath and fatigue more easily. Players who play professional sports understand the importance of stretching because they want to prevent joint damage and strain.
One study showed that players who stretched experienced significant decreases in hamstring length compared to non-stretched participants. While these researchers believe that improved flexibility directly contributes to increased stamina and speed, studies on baseball pitchers show that the opposite holds true — stiffer arms translate into stronger throws. So although static stretching isn’t necessary for everyone, it does give players a break once in awhile and gives them back the strength needed to perform harder exercises.
Many athletes choose dynamic stretching instead of static ones because it allows for greater mobility and flexibility. Once your body heats up, you’ll naturally find your limits through small movements that push beyond where your body could go normally. Although the specific benefits of dynamic stretching vary based on sport, it generally improves joint range of motion and reduces chances of injury.
Athletes looking to run faster, jump higher and lift heavier weights should try incorporating dynamic stretching into their programs. Basketball players and soccer stars alike benefit from frequent low impact jogs that include jumps and light running sprints [Source: University of Illinois]. Swimmers should look forward to using dynamic stretching to enhance arm swings and prevent shoulder dislocations.
Do I Need To Stretch For My Sport?
You might wonder whether you really need to stretch depending on what type of activities you participate in. Well, the answer is yes! Whether you’re playing contact football, volleyball or practicing yoga, you absolutely need to stretch before going full throttle. In fact, the Yoga Science Foundation has shown that yoga not only improves flexibility, but also can improve strength and endurance. Many times, our trainers tell us that we don’t need to stretch, but only do it if we feel bad afterwards. That being said, if you suffer from chronic aches and pains, you should always consult a doctor before beginning a new exercise program.
However, no matter what your current situation is, stretching provides numerous benefits. First off, it prepares your soft tissues for strenuous activity. Secondly, it encourages lymphatic drainage and prevents build up of fluids in your joints. Finally, it promotes flexibility and ranges of motion, allowing you to attain maximum physical potential.
How Do I Know If I Should Be Stretching?
Now that you know all the advantages of stretching, it still remains unclear as to when you should start. Most coaches recommend starting at least 10 minutes early to allow the body ample time to adapt to new stresses. If you wait until right before your workout begins to stretch, you’ll end up missing valuable warm ups and possibly injure yourself. In order to determine when you should begin stretching, ask yourself certain questions:
Is my workout intense? – High intensity exercises are extremely demanding on the cardiovascular system, especially if you haven’t warmed up adequately.
Am I prone to cramps? – Cramp prevention varies according to personal preference, but sometimes stretching can cause muscle spasms.
Have I had sufficient rest recently? – Proper recovery plays a critical role in preventing injuries. The average person sleeps 8 hours per day, but sleep deprivation can compromise immune function and hinder healing processes.
Are my muscles tired? – Muscles typically tire quicker than skin, ligaments and cartilage. Tired muscles hold onto toxins and waste products resulting in inflammation, swelling and decreased oxygenation.
Does my job require prolonged sitting? – Sitting for long durations leads to excessive weight gain and lower limb atrophy. Poor posture causes spinal misalignment and puts additional stress on the neck, shoulders, hips and knees.
After answering these questions, you should decide whether you should stretch before or after your workout. If your answers mostly fall under the “no” category, then it’s safe to assume that you should stretch before working out. Otherwise, stay flexible and change things up occasionally.
Try alternating different forms of stretching and keep track of how your body reacts to the changes.
When Should I Stretch Before A Workout?
Once again, this question depends greatly upon your particular circumstances. Generally speaking, you should stretch at least ten minutes before working out if possible. During this period, you should focus primarily on static stretching. Because the human body relies solely on slow reflexes to accomplish tasks, static stretching works best at relaxing muscles without causing undue weariness. Also, static stretching releases excess lactic acid buildup and builds elasticity, preparing the body for subsequent exertion.
On the other hand, dynamic stretching tends to produce immediate effects. Rather than focusing on relaxation, it focuses on increasing range of motion. For example, a runner might perform abdominal twists followed by calf raises and then lunge steps. Even though these moves are designed to stimulate muscular endurance, it’s recommended that shorter intervals be incorporated gradually. After several repetitions, the athlete can progress to performing larger strides.
Of course, the abovementioned guidelines apply to individuals who engage in moderate fitness regimens. If you regularly compete in highly competitive events, you should seek medical advice from a certified trainer before attempting any sort of stretching routine.
What Kind Of Stretches Should I Do?
Your choice of stretches mainly falls along two categories: passive and active. Passive stretches consist of lying or reclining in various positions, whereas active stretches involve coordinated movement against resistance. Active stretching strengthens key areas including legs, core, glutes, hamstrings, upper thighs, pelvis and hip flexors. Passive stretching, on the contrary, targets large muscle groups like quadriceps, abdominals and calves. Both types of stretching provide similar relief from muscle soreness, though passive stretching provides slightly lesser improvements in flexibility and agility.
There are dozens of stretching methods available, ranging from simple toe touches to complex yoga poses. Regardless of which method suits your personality, consistency is the main ingredient for success. Don’t expect instant results; patience, persistence and motivation are required to achieve lasting results. Keep records of your efforts and watch closely for signs of improvement, and remember that your goals are achievable provided you put forth effort. At the end of the day, all you can really strive for is feeling comfortable and happy with your physique.
Whether you’re interested in becoming healthier, fitter or simply wanting to develop a healthy lifestyle, stretching is an excellent addition to your regimen. Stretching increases circulation and promotes flexibility, allowing you to perform all types of movements as accurately and efficiently as possible. In short, by following a few basic guidelines in your stretching routine you can prevent injuries and help your body maintain its maximum potential.