Stretching is part of a well-rounded fitness regimen. Although we all know we need to be doing it regularly, life often gets in the way. You decide to eke out a few extra minutes on the treadmill or add a few extra sets of resistance training instead of making time on the mat to stretch. It happens!
Unfortunately, the result is that you feel stiff and uncomfortable and have decreased range of motion to perform even everyday tasks like climbing subway stairs or lifting your 3-year-old. But stretching can also enhance our fitness programs and quality of life in three key ways you may not have previously considered. Here’s how:
- Stretching during your workout can help increase training volume.
Don’t stretch the muscle you are actually training between sets. This can result in a decreased performance and loss of strength. It may actually cause you to be able to lift less weight during your sets. What you want to do instead is stretch the antagonist muscle between sets.
So, for example, if you are training your chest then you would stretch your back, or if you are training triceps you would stretch your biceps. As a result of stretching your antagonist muscles, you may be able to perform more repetitions of the exercises in your program and increase overall training volume.
- Dynamic stretching may improve performance and reduce the risk of injury when performed pre-workout.
The prevailing attitude in fitness is that you should stretch only after working out rather than before completing your workout. This is only partially true. Professional athletes and recreational athletes can use stretching to prepare their bodies during their warmup for the work ahead doing something called dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretching is simply active movements of muscle versus static stretching in which you are holding a stretch for a given amount of time. Examples include lunges, inchworms, hip circles, and arm swings. This type of stretching is shown to actually increase performance whereas static stretching pre-workout may have the opposite effect. Static stretching should be avoided in most cases pre-workout and saved for post-workout.
- Stretching may help to lower stress.
Stretching has positive effects on both the body and the mind. As you are stretching to relieve tight muscles, you are also relieving mental stress and tension. Carving out this time for yourself in the day may leave you feeling more relaxed, calm, and recharged. Many people enjoy organized classes like yoga, but for those who are more time-constrained, unstructured shorter amounts of time spent stretching the body can be very effective in lowering stress levels. Investing 10 to 15 minutes in a stretching routine is doable for most people, and you may even find that you are more productive with your responsibilities on days when you take a few minutes to stretch.