A long time ago, way back in grade school (actually not so long ago for some of us), we all learned the basics of fitness, including stretching. Everyone has the same shared experience of standing in formation in gym class first thing in the morning, facing the PE teacher, and following along for warm up stretches before moving on to the exercise of the day.
But believe it or not, a lot has changed since you were in school, and we’re here to bring you up to speed on the latest improvements in stretching, including when to stretch, what stretching exercises you should perform, and even if you should be stretching in the first place!
So take a seat, put your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’, and keep reading to learn everything there is to know about stretching as a weightlifter or bodybuilder.
Old School Stretching Myths
Even as recently as a few years ago, stretching was king of the jungle. It was common knowledge that if you didn’t stretch prior to working out, you were begging for injuries, even if you were just going for a simple job.
Lately, we’ve seen a new word begin to replace stretching, and that word is ‘mobility’. Mobility, in this context, is defined as the ability to move or be moved freely and easily.
When we consider fitness and weightlifting, mobility is all about being able to move your muscles fluidly through the full range of motion, without any type of injury to the muscles, joints or ligaments.
While mobility exercises may be all the rage lately, it doesn’t mean you should completely write off traditional, static stretching. You just have to know when to use it.
Before The Workout
This is where all the new Instagram and YouTube influencers and fitness personalities have it right: the best way to improve your flexibility and mobility prior to working out isn’t through traditional stretching like you learned back in gym class. Instead, you should consider working on movement while keeping your body aligned. After all, recent studies have found that mobility exercises, or dynamic stretching actually enhances muscular performance to a greater degree than static stretching.
A few simple pointers to keep in mind while performing your warm up mobility exercises is to move your joints, both big and small, through a complete range of motion and to work the same muscle groups that you plan on hitting during your lifting routine.
For example, if you were on an upper body day, your mobility exercises might include:
-Arm Circles (both front and side)
-Dive Bomber Pushups
On leg day, your mobility exercise warmup could look like this:
-Ass To Grass bodyweight squats (go as low as you can, but don’t rush)
-Walking Bodyweight Lunges
-High knees/ Butt Kicks
Perform a few of these movements, usually for around 30 seconds each, prior to the lifting part of your workout to activate your muscles and warm up your joints. This can help prevent injury, and gets your body ready for the real workout.
During The Workout
While not as popular or well-studied, stretching during your workout is also a viable strategy. This involves focusing on the lowering or eccentric part of the rep. For example, when performing dumbbell bench presses, allow the dumbbells to push your arms all the way down, stretching out the front deltoid and pectorals.
You can do this with a number of exercises, like squats, Romanian Deadlifts for tight hamstrings, and toe raises where your heels dip below your toes.
If you decide to go this route, make sure to keep proper form and don’t overload your muscles. If you’re going to incorporate stretching into your workout, de-load a bit so that you’re more capable of handling the weight.
After The Workout
Now this is where all of your old school stretches really shine: post-workout. Once you’ve blasted your muscles with the heavy weights, you can take the time to work in the well known static stretches, such as hamstring stretch, quadriceps stretch and shoulder stretch.
By adding stretching to the end of your routine, you can develop a better, more full range of motion. Make sure to hold each stretch to at least a count of 30 seconds, as this is when you start to see the full benefits of stretching.
You don’t even need to stretch every single muscle group with static stretches, but definitely focus on the areas where you may be lacking. If your hamstrings are tight from sitting at a desk all day, maybe spend some extra time on the floor with the hurdler’s stretch.
If your hips are begging for some release, try the Supine Figure 4 stretch, or the Kneeling Hip Flexor stretch. These stretches are designed to work your hips from multiple angles, and will help keep you mobile for those days where you’re squatting and deadlifting.
Pro Tip: Use Mobility Bands
Mobility Bands are an especially useful tool while stretching. They can help you get into positions that are otherwise impossible, and allow you to hold a position longer.
For example, using a mobility band to stretch your hamstrings while laying on your back and keeping your other leg straight not only stretches the hamstrings of one leg, but the inner groin muscles of both legs.
Mobility Bands can also be attached to a door from or other stationary object to be pulled against. This is a great way to stretch out a shoulder without too much strain. Check out a set of our Mobility Bands here.
That may all sound a bit confusing, but here’s the nitty gritty: perform dynamic, movement-oriented exercises before your workout, and save the static stretching until after. Make sure to perform each stretch or exercise for at least 30 seconds in order to get all of the benefits.
And don’t be afraid to utilize tools, such as foam roller pads or mobility bands in your workouts.