Today, you’re going to learn how to stretch.
This particular article might be light on the nerdiness (hope you don’t mind), and maybe even a little boring, but fear not! It’s going to keep you safe and healthy on your quest to living a better life. On top of that, if you’re big into strength training, stretching is so freaking important that if you are tight on time, cut the workout short but not the warm-up before or cool down after.
Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.
Why should you stretch after a workout?
Now, there are conflicting stories and reports and studies on the benefits of stretching before/after workouts. In this nerd’s humble opinion and experience, along with the opinion and experience of those that I personally respect, static stretching BEFORE a workout isn’t beneficial and can actually decrease your strength.
However, stretching AFTER a workout can help kickstart the recovery process, loosen up your joints and muscles, and keep you feeling like a normal person rather than a robot. Not that having the flexibility of a steel girder ISN’T fun, but it’s not my thing 🙂
This is why I find stretching AFTER a workout to be so beneficial (as it’s so eloquently explained in this great article):
“When you lift a weight your muscles contract. And after the workout the muscles remain contracted for some time. The following restoration of the muscles’ length is what recovery is. Until the muscle has restored its length, it has not recovered. Hence he who does not stretch his muscles slows down the recuperation process and retards his gains.” Besides, tension and relaxation are the two sides of the same coin, “if the muscle forgets how to lengthen, it will contract more poorly. And that is stagnation of strength.”
When you go through a great stretch routine after a heavy weight lifting day, your muscles are already starting to recover and expand, which will allow to you get back to “normal” more quickly than if you didn’t stretch.
And with improved flexibility comes improved performance in almost all areas of life (yup, even THAT).
Also, as you get older, your flexibility and mobility start to go…making you FEEL older. If you can stay flexible, you’re more likely to stay happy and healthy for far longer. Staying flexible keeps you active, and staying active keeps you young.
Beginner Stretching Routine
Now, after working out, HOW should you stretch depends on a few factors: Your particular fitness level, your level of flexibility, how hard you worked out, and which muscles have been stretched.
What’s important is to try your best, don’t stretch beyond the point where the movements are actually painful. Slight discomfort (from stretching, duh) is what we’re aiming for.
Now, how far you stretch is up to you – You know your body best, and it’s the only one you got – so please take care of it!
Advanced Stretching Routine
Here’s a video of a more advanced stretching routine that I adapted from my fitness yoda/friend Mike Rickett. It’s a mix of yoga, stretching, tai-chi, pilates, and awesome. This is relatively advanced, so don’t do any of these movements that are too much of a reach (get it?!) for you.
The video explains everything, so pay attention to both the movement and number of repetitions. Although I move quickly through the movements (sorry about that), don’t confuse my movements with bouncing – stretch as far as you can, hold it for a few seconds without bouncing, and then repeat the process: