Time is precious, and unless you’re a glutton for punishment, you don’t want to spend any more time at the gym than you have to. It’s tempting to log in those 45 minutes of weight lifting or cardio before you head off to bigger and better things, but don’t forget about that one vital component of your workout that is so easily neglected: stretching.
Stretching doesn’t bulk up our muscles or trim fat from our thighs, but it does increase flexibility to make your workout safer and more effective. Here are some of the benefits you can reap from stretching before and after your workout routine.
- Prepare the body for exercise
- Increase range of motion
- Prevent muscle and joint strains
- Relieve muscle tension
- Lower the risk of back problems
- Relax the body (Source: Your Fitness FAQ)
Before your workout
You should never attempt to stretch a cold muscle, so always complete a 5 to 10 minute warm-up before you begin stretching. Avoid static stretching before your workout, a technique which holds the muscle in a stretched position for 20-30 seconds. Instead, perform a series of active stretches. This type of stretching involves dynamic body movements that gradually increase in reach and speed, such as neck rolls or leg swings (Source: LIVESTRONG). Try to focus on the particular muscle groups you will target in your workout. For example, if it’s leg day, choose stretches that target your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and IT band.
After your workout
Everyone is more flexible after their workout due to increased motion and circulation, so don’t skip this prime opportunity for some cool-down stretching. Static stretching is safe at this point as long as you don’t push yourself to the point of pain. Stretch your muscles as far as you can while still feeling comfortable, and hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Remember to breathe in before the stretch, then slowly exhale as you move into the stretch. Breathe normally throughout your stretching routine, and remember not to hold your breath (Source: WebMD).