Hey guys! So maybe the title of this one sounds a bit like a Motivational Monday post, but we’re actually going to get real today about a topic that many people take for granted – stretching.
A lot of bodybuilders dislike stretching as they feel it can kill their gains, but this is only true as it pertains to WHEN you stretch. Generally speaking, stretching your body out RIGHT before an exercise is a bad idea, as it will temporarily lengthen and loosen up the stretched muscles which will in turn decrease your body’s efficiency when performing the exercise. This is why things like the beginners workout I shared a while ago include a LIGHT stretch before the entire workout and after it instead of intertwined through the work itself.
To be clear, the idea of stretching in general is a VERY good idea, but what’s important is deciding WHEN you will stretch. I’m a fan of a light stretch prior to a workout and after it, as well as a day of the week dedicated to a stretching routine. This routine should be adhered to just as seriously as you would adhere to a workout for any other part of your body. This will help maintain flexibility, while lengthening muscles and increasing your range of motion. As it pertains to functional fitness, I think these elements and therefore stretching in general should be near the top of the list of important things to maintain – especially for an aging athlete.
The Benefits of Stretching
I’ve touched on a few of the benefits of stretching already, but there are many reasons why you need to make this a regular part of your fitness program, including:
- Increases flexibility
- Increased range of motion
- Increased blood flow and hence nutrients and oxygen to your muscles
- Decrease back pain
- Prevent injury by preparing your muscles for a workout
- Fix poor posture caused by tightness
- Decrease stress and inflammation
- Relax the body and mind (especially if performed as part of a yoga routine)
Lets talk about the proper way to static stretch and how to push yourself while stretching.
There is a difference between a ballistic stretch and a static stretch. When performing a balistic stretch, you want to focus on maximizing your range of motion, and there isn’t as much technique involved, however, when holding a static stretch – for example, touching your toes, youll want to focus on the following things:
- Stretching is supposed to be a LITTLE bit uncomfortable – not a lot. If you feel pain at any time, back off of the stretch.
- You want to hold each stretch for a bit of time. This isn’t a race. Hold each stretch for the specified number of breaths.
- The breaths should be slow – not rushed. If you’re breathing like you’re running a race, slow it down. Breathe deeply.
- When pushing yourself, fall into the stretch, take a deep breath, and as you exhale, fall a little bit deeper into the the stretch. Hold the stretch as you inhale and exhale again.
- Relax. If you’re not pushing too hard, you’ll feel your muscles relax a bit as you hold the stretch and the discomfort will ease a bit.
Lets Stretch it Out!
OK, so if I’ve convinced you on the importance of stretching as a part of your fitness routine, you may be asking yourself where to begin? You may be one of those resourceful people who realize the internet holds the answer to many many things, and you’re already googling some routines, but if that’s not you, don’t sweat it, I’ve got you covered! Below is a simple routine that will help you stretch out your body from head to toe, and if followed regularly, should help you to increase your range of motion and all of those other wonderful things outlined above! Each exercise also includes a link to a YouTube video showing how to perform the stretch (some are better quality than others!).
Perform each ballistic stretch for 10 repetitions
Ballistic Shoulder Rotation (backward and forward)
Trunk Rotation Stretch
Alternating Toe Touch
Ankle Rotations (clockwise and counterclockwise)
Hold each stretch for 8 breaths – 4 inhalations, and 4 exhalations, push yourself, but back off of pain.
Overhead Tricep Stretch
Cross Body Stretch
Standing Single Arm Side Stretch
Dynamic Pec Stretch – palms up instead of together and hold the stretch at the back of the movement
Standing Quad Stretch – Push the hips slightly forward while holding the foot to the glutes
Lying Glute Stretch
Seated Single Leg Toe Touches
Seated Double Leg Toe Touches
Yoga Stretch Finale:
Ashtanga Sun Salutation A – 4 repetitions – Do your best! The woman in the video has clearly been doing this for a long time and is extremely flexible!
Childs Pose – Hold as long as you’d like!
That should give you a pretty good primer on stretching, and set you well on the path to a more flexible you! Please, don’t get discouraged by any of the video links, some are better than others, and some (especially the yoga examples) are clearly performed by people who make Play-Dough look like concrete! Simply do your best, use the videos for reference and inspiration, and over time, you’ll find that your body will begin to loosen up.
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