Many people go to the gym and just hop right onto a machine or hit the weight rack without any sort of warm up or stretching routine. Most do not truly understand the value of warm-up/stretching and don't fully understand the proper way to actively stretch the muscles that they are going to exercise.
In this post, we are going to go over why stretching is important from a physiological standpoint and how it will almost instantly boost your performance during exercise and minimize your chances of injury. In addition, we will discuss several stretches that should become staples to your exercise routine.
To begin, what does stretching do? Well, as the term may imply, it stretches your muscles, but, why is it important? Stretching keeps joints flexible and helps to elongate your muscles allowing them to fully extend during exercise. If you do not stretch, muscles shorten and become tight. Tightness inhibits how far a muscle may be extended and if called upon for strenuous activity may lead to injury to joints, muscle strains, and/or pulls. Just think of your muscles as rubber bands. If put in a cold environment, they become stiff. If you suddenly try to stretch the band it may break due to tightness. Now, take the same rubber band and slowly stretch it out, it will adapt to the stimuli and loosen up. Once it is loose, an abrupt stretch will not cause damage to the band. Your muscles act in a similar manner. Stretching also helps to increase your range of motion. It allows your muscles to fully extend and contract which allows much more stimulation to the whole muscle. If you are able to completely extend and contract a muscle, you will gain more strength and build more muscle due to increased activation of the muscle fibers. As the old saying goes....the longer the muscle, the stronger the muscle.
Simple stretches that will help increase performance and prevent injury:
1.) Standing Quad stretch- This will help loosen up your quadriceps as well as stretch your hip flexors.
To do: Stand straight up and use a wall or post to balance if necessary. Grab your ankle or top of your foot with hand on same side(right foot/right hand, left foot/left hand. Gently pull your foot to where your heal is approaching you glute. You will feel a stretch in your hip and quad. Repeat on other side. Hold in place at peak of stretch for 30 seconds.
2.) Basic Hamstring Stretch- This will help loosen up hamstrings and glutes as well as stretch lower back.
To do: Sit on the floor with both leg extended straight out in front of you. Slowly and gently reach for your toes. You will feel this in the back of your legs and glutes as well as lower back. Hold peak stretch for 30 seconds.
3.) Cross-body Shoulder Stretch- This will loosen shoulders, traps, and upper back muscles. Will increase AC(shoulder) joint flexibility and mobility.
To do: Extend one arm across your body and use other arm to gently pull it across and into your chest. Hold peak stretch for 30 second each arm.
4.) Chest Opener- This stretch will help stretch your pectoral(chest muscles) as well as front deltoids. This is a great stretch to help improve posture and increase range of motion while performing upper body pressing exercises.
To do: Stand up straight and find a wall, post, or anything stagnant that you can reach at slightly above shoulder height. Extend one arm with palm facing forward and press it against wall/post. Slowly rotate your body away from wall/post to activate stretch. You will feel this in upper chest, mainly near front deltoid muscle. Repeat on other side. Hold peak position for 30 seconds.
These four stretches will help maintain or gain flexibility in the major movers required during exercise. Ideally you want to perform these stretches before and after exercise. If you would like you may even perform these the stretches that apply to specific muscle groups in between sets or exercises. Not only will incorporating a stretching routine into your daily workouts increase performance, but, will also help in the recovery process.
Recovery Pro Tip: In addition to stretching, consume a protein shake within 1-2 hours after training. We recommend a high quality, Natural Whey Protein. Our top pick of course is 5Pro Nutrition All Natural Whey. For convenience sake, use an Ice Shaker bottle to mix shake with ice prior to exercise. It will still be ice cold when you consume it afterwards!