Warning: If you cannot touch your toes, you should read this article. If you can touch your toes, you should still read this article.
Stretching isn’t something I often see happening before large, strapping men hit the weight floor. In truth, it is not something I see many gym patrons often doing at all. As a Certified Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of stretching and flexibility when performing any physical activity. Needless to say, this does not mean aimlessly hunching your back until your fingers graze the tops of your shoes; it means mindfully and properly performing dynamic or static stretches before your strength training routine or cardio session begins.
Give yourself five to ten minutes prior to your workout, find a little bit of space and actively stretch. You may be amazed at how it improves your athletic performance and lifting abilities. If you’re unsure how to start stretching or what type of stretching to do, here are a guidelines that may be helpful to you:
- Dynamic Stretching: What is it, and how do I do it? By definition, dynamic stretching is a series of “active movements of muscle that bring forth a stretch but are not held in the end position”. To simplify this, this is a type of moving stretch, i.e. deep walking lunges with spinal rotations or Frankensteins (kick opposite toe to opposite hand). Dynamic stretching should be completed before intense strength training routines and plyometrics to increase mobility, prep the body for explosive movements and lubricate the joints. As you move through your stretches it is important to maintain balance, engage your core, and pair your movements with consistent inhalations and exhalations.
- Static Stretching is another form of stretching that you’ll see most people performing lackadaisically on their gyms’ sweaty mats shoved in the corner. Deep openers such as these are not meant for the lazy-hearted, but for the dedicated individuals who actually want to improve their flexibility. These stretches take more patience and can be relatively more intense; however, when performed consistently, they can greatly increase mobility, joint strength and overall wellness. In order to adequately improve flexibility, static stretching poses should be held for at least 75-90 seconds, several times per week. This type of stretching is recommended before and after cardio workouts and low-intensity, high-volume strength training.
Fitness enthusiast and Personal Training guru, Christine St. Laurent, exclaims, “Poor flexibility in one or more muscle groups can lead to muscular imbalances or poor posture. Tight muscles pull on joints and can slowly create a shift in your body’s alignment. People with muscular-skeletal imbalances appear to be more prone to injuries.”. Yikes! To put the time management of stretching in perspective, spending just five to ten minutes before every workout to stretch can literally save a lifetime of rehabilitation once an injury occurs.
If you are still unsure of where to start, I recommend taking a restorative yoga class once per week to learn basic floor (static) stretches. These classes will be gentle enough on the body, calming for the mind, and a perfect opportunity to assess your level of flexibility. For dynamic stretching, focus on moving and stretching the muscle groups you’ll be using during your workout. For example, a lunge with a twist as shown above, would be an ideal stretch to learn the fundamentals of dynamic, functional stretching.
NASM certified Personal Trainer and Alliance 200-HR certified Yoga Instructor. My deep love for fitness and health has motivated me to live a mindful, healthy lifestyle and teach others how to do the same. I am blessed to have the opportunity on a daily basis to connect with people through exercise and yoga; I find it extremely empowering and inspiring to witness someone transform their body and mind in such a positive way. To be health-aware and teach health-awareness leads each of us down an enriched path to self-discovery, strength and fearlessness.