Stretching…the what, the why, the how

Hey everyone! Happy Monday! Hope you’re having a great start to your week. I wanted to pop in today and talk about the importance of stretching and mobility training. Why is it important and where it should fall in your workout.

I think most of us ‘know’ that stretching is important but we often skip it either because we’re short on time and want to get the most out of our workout, which to us, means only lifting and no stretching of any kind, or we just get too tired after our workout we don’t want to add on stretching or mobility, or maybe you’re new to working out and you’re not even sure what mobility training is and why we need it. I’ll be going over all of that in today’s post.

The What

Let’s define a few things first.

Stretching.

It’s the process of passively taking a muscle to the point of tension. Now there are 3 different kinds of stretching.

Static, active, and dynamic.

Static stretching is taking the muscle to the point of tension and holding it there for at least 30 seconds. For example, stretching your triceps in an across body pattern and holding it.

Active stretching is used to increase the extensibility of your muscles. An example of this would be something like huggers (what you see swimmers do before they jump into the pool) that move and warm up the shoulder joint as well as ‘shake out’ the arm muscles.

Dynamic stretching uses multiple muscle groups to move a joint into a range of motion. An example of this would be doing a squat. If you’re warming up for a back squats, the best kind of warm up would be a body weight squat. Something that moves you through the range of motion you’re about to perform in the exercise but without a ton of weight. It gets your body used to the pattern of movement you’re about to perform.

Banded glute bridge to warm-up lower body muscles

Mobility.

The next thing I want to define is mobility training. Some of you might have heard that term and some of you might be wondering ‘what the heck?’. Mobility training and SMR (self myofascial release or foam rolling) focuses on working out your body in a way that will increase your flexibility, lengthen your muscles, and help prevent injury. When you foam roll, you put pressure on the ‘knot’ in your muscle and that helps the muscle fibers move from a bundled position into a straighter alignment, which allows you to move through exercises and certain ranges of motion fluidly without worrying about pulling something or overusing a muscle. It’s a great tool for everyone in the gym, no matter what level you’re at.  When you first start foam rolling, it will hurt.  When I first started foam rolling, I actually got bruises along the muscles I was foam rolling.  Totally normal.  When you try something new, it’s always going to take your body time to adapt to that new thing.  When you first do a tough workout, you’re sore afterwards but the soreness dissipates over time as your muscles adapt; same thing happens with foam rolling.

Quad roll
Inner thigh roll
Glute roll (you can also put your opposite ankle on your thigh for more pressure if needed)

Mobility exercises take the body through a full range of motion focusing on specific areas.  For example, the yoga pose cat/cow, focuses on stretching out your spine through its full range of motion.  It’s similar to a dynamic stretch, and is often done to aid in any muscle imbalances and specific soreness or tightness you’re experiencing.

The Why

All right, so now that I’ve explained a few different types of stretching and mobility stretching, why is that important? Well, I kind of touched on it above, but stretching and foam rolling…

1.) Prepare your body to move well during your workout

2.) Aid in preventing injuries

AND

3.) Help loosen up your muscles after you’ve tightened them doing your workout, which leads to faster and better recovery.

The How

So, we know the what, we know the why, what about the how? There are a few schools of thought on this, but studies have shown that foam rolling before working out can really help loosen up any knots you have or any tightness you have before you do anything else, including stretching. Stretching is good but if you imagine a knot tied in a rope, and you pull on the ends of that rope, what does the knot do? It just gets tighter, right? However, if you were to work on that knot specifically, moving it around, pressing on it and eventually loosening it up, then you could pull the rope with no knot in it. Same thing for our muscles. It’s important to move the knot around and loosen up the muscles first, before stretching them. Just 5 minutes of foam rolling before 5 minutes of stretching before your workout is enough to loosen everything up and get ready.

Now, it’s probably better to do dynamic or active stretching before your workout to help your body warm up more for the exercise and save the static stretching for after your dynamic stretches or as part of your cool down [Source].   The research out there is fairly new in this area, and there is some research stating that static stretching lasting longer than 30 seconds can decrease strength and performance for about 10 minutes after…aka when you would be diving into your workout, so because the research is fairly young and sparse on this subject, do what feels good to you. If you find that you love foam rolling and doing a few dynamic stretches to warm up that’s great, do that. If you like foam rolling but then love some good static stretching to loosen everything up and it doesn’t seem to negatively affect your workout, go with that.

The end of your workout will look similar to your warmup. You’ll want to do some dynamic stretches to get your heart rate down and your body back to a parasympathetic state…basically a neutral state. Once your heart rate starts to come back down and you start to breath easier and feel cooled down, then you can do some foam rolling.  I do recommend static stretching at the end of a workout. This helps stretch out those muscles that you just shortened during your workout. When we lift or run or do any kind of workout, we’re stretching and tearing our muscle, which leads them to contract back into shortened position, so stretching afterwards is important to get your muscles back to their pre-workout state. This will help alleviate any soreness and help you recover faster.

Hope this info was valuable to you all and I hope you have a great week!

Happy stretching!

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