Stretching before a workout is a critical part of any fitness routine. Whether you’re lifting weights, running, or doing yoga, a good stretching routine can help you prevent injury, increase flexibility, and improve your overall performance – but it’s not just workouts that benefit from regular stretching!
What is stretching?
Of course you know what Stretching is – but, do you know why you do it? Stretching is a simple and effective way to improve your flexibility, range of motion, and, critically, overall mobility. It involves elongating your muscles and moving your joints through their full range of motion. If you don’t regularly perform stretching, your range of motion can become restricted – this leads to that “stiff” feeling and might even cause an injury.
There are two primary types of stretching: dynamic and static.
Dynamic stretching involves moving your body through a series of controlled movements, such as lunges or leg swings. This type of stretching is often used as a warm-up before exercise because it helps increase blood flow to your muscles and prepares them for the demands of your workout.
Static stretching involves holding a position for an extended period, such as touching your toes or holding a quad stretch. This type of stretching is best done after exercise when your muscles are warm and more pliable.
Why is stretching important before a workout?
Stretching before a workout has several important benefits, including:
- Increased flexibility: Regular stretching can help improve your flexibility over time. This can make it easier to perform certain exercises and movements, reducing your risk of injury.
- Improved range of motion: Stretching can also help improve your range of motion, allowing you to move more freely and with greater ease.
- Reduced risk of injury: By preparing your muscles and joints for exercise, stretching can help reduce your risk of injury. This is especially important for high-impact activities like running or jumping.
- Better performance: When your muscles are properly warmed up and stretched, you’ll be able to perform better during your workout. This can lead to better results over time.
- Improved posture: Regular stretching can help improve your posture, reducing your risk of back pain and other issues
How to stretch before a workout
To get the most out of your stretching routine, it’s important to follow a few simple guidelines:
- Start with dynamic stretching: Begin your stretching routine with dynamic stretches to warm up your muscles and prepare them for the demands of your workout. This might include exercises like leg swings, walking lunges, or arm circles.
- Focus on major muscle groups: Make sure to focus on major muscle groups like your legs, back, and chest. These are the muscles that are most often used during exercise and are therefore more prone to injury.
- Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds: When performing static stretches, hold each position for 15-30 seconds to allow your muscles to elongate and relax.
- Don’t bounce: Avoid bouncing or jerking movements when stretching, as this can cause injury.
- Listen to your body: Pay attention to how your body feels during stretching and adjust accordingly. If a stretch feels uncomfortable or painful, back off or modify the stretch.
- Incorporate foam rolling: Consider incorporating foam rolling into your stretching routine to help release tight muscles and improve overall mobility.
Examples of stretches to do before a workout
Here are a few examples of stretches to include in your pre-workout stretching routine:
- Walking lunges: Begin by taking a step forward with your right foot and lowering your left knee to the ground. Keep your front knee aligned over your ankle and hold the stretch for a few seconds before stepping forward with your left foot and repeating on the other side.
- Shoulder circles: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and raise your arms out to your sides. Begin making small circles with your arms, gradually increasing the size of the circles. Reverse the direction of the circles after a few repetitions.
- Standing quad stretch: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and lift your right foot up behind you, grabbing your ankle with your right hand. Hold the stretch for a few seconds before releasing and repeating on the other side.
- Hamstring stretch: Sit on the ground with your legs stretched out in front of you. Reach forward and grab your toes or ankles, keeping your back straight. Hold the stretch for a few seconds before releasing.
- Cat-cow stretch: Begin on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Inhale and arch your back, dropping your belly towards the ground (cow pose). Exhale and round your spine, tucking your chin towards your chest (cat pose). Repeat for several repetitions.
When to stretch?
Stretching is essential before a workout – failing to properly stretch may well lead to injury, but it’s not just when exercise that you should be stretching. Think about it – when do you really not want your body to be flexible and able to move in it’s full range of motion? If you work a physical job, you really should be stretching – even just 5 minutes in the morning can make a difference. Work in an office? – while you may not be undertaking a lot of physical activity being inactive al day can also stress the body and lead to tension. Stretching won’t totally eliminate this problem, but it can go a long way to mitigating it!
Therefore, while incorporating stretching into your pre-workout routine is an important step towards injury prevention, improved flexibility, and better overall performance, daily stretching can help you to maintain good range of motion and avoid discomfort throughout the day. Remember to start with dynamic stretching, focus on major muscle groups, hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds, avoid bouncing or jerking movements and listen to your body!