Let’s Talk About Stretch, Baby – Stretching Tips from a Personal Trainer

“I really should stretch more…”
 
If you’ve ever uttered these words, then you can join the club of most of the population, who vaguely know they should be stretching, just not how, why, when, or for how long. Stretching is one of the areas of working out that many people feel totally at a loss about. When I’m asked for help or advice when I’m on the gym floor at my work, it’s very often a request for stretching tips or foam rolling help (which falls into the same category of recovering after a workout). I’ve shared some stretching routines with you in the past…
 
 
 
 
 
 
…But I’ve never really gotten into the whys, whens, or how longs. After a month-long stretching focus as part of my company’s wellness initiative for its employees, I’ve heard all the questions and explained all the ins and outs of why stretching is something that will benefit you once you start doing it regularly. So, ready to learn why you need to stretch, and how and when to do it? Check out my stretching tips below!
 
Stretching tips from a personal trainer - why you need to stretch, when and how to do it, explained!

Why do we need to stretch?

Well, when you DON’T stretch, your muscles become tight and shorten. Then when you actually want and need your muscles to work for you, they’re weaker. If you’re stretching regularly, you’re helping your muscles and their surrounding fascia become more flexible, and allowing yourself a full range of motion when you’re moving. (In case you want a refresher on what fascia is, you can check out my Foam Rolling Basics guide!)

When do we need to stretch?

In a nutshell, you want to do active (or dynamic) stretches before a workout, then do static stretches (holding one stretch for a period of time) after a workout. Basically think about what you’re trying to get your muscles to do – before a workout, you want to get the blood moving, warm up & get ready for your muscles to do work. After your workout, you want to relax, let your muscles stretch out, and lengthen.

What are dynamic, or active stretches?

Active stretches, also known as dynamic warm ups, are a way of preparing your body for movement patterns you are about to call on your muscles to perform. The easiest way to explain them is to ask you to think about what you are about to do, then use active stretches to prepare for that activity. For example, are you about to go running? What movements do you perform when you run? Mimic them, but in an exaggerated way – think lunges, leg swings, high knees, and arm swings. Are you doing strength training? If you’re doing a lower body weights workout, for example, you might want to target those areas with some lunges, bodyweight squats, and bodyweight deadlift moves.

Dynamic warm ups like these activate the muscles you’re about to use, as well as raise your body temperature, lubricate your joints, and increase blood flow to your muscles.

When should I foam roll? Is it a warm up or is it stretching?

Foam rolling is magical because it can be done as both part of your warm up, and as part of your post-workout stretching routine. You can get more detail here, but basically you are increasing blood flow to your fascia, the skin surrounding your muscles, as well as loosening up any tight spots that might impede range of motion in certain muscles. That’s why it can be a great way to complement a  warm up. It’s also a form of self-massage, which can be beneficial for relieving soreness and tension directly after a workout. Since, again, you’re encouraging blood flow to your muscles by rolling them out, you’re also assisting the recovery process of your body. (And in case you weren’t aware, it’s when you’re resting post-workout that your muscles are actually strengthening, not when you are putting stressors on the body during your workout!)

What are static stretches?

Static stretches are what most people are thinking of when they say ‘stretching’. It’s getting into a position at the point of your range of motion where you can feel your muscle lengthening, and then just holding that position for a short period of time. The ACSM recommends holding static stretches for about 10 – 30 seconds. Static stretching is best done after a workout, when you’re transitioning from overloading your muscles, or putting stressors on your body, to relaxing and preparing for the recovery process. The number one thing to remember about static stretching is that it should only be done when your muscles are warm. Post-workout, you’re obviously already warm, but if you want to stretch throughout the day, just make it a point to warm up a little first – take a quick walk, do a few dynamic moves, or even a hot shower counts.

What do you do if a stretch hurts?

Stop! Always, in stretching, or in working out, if you feel an unusual or acute pain, stop. When it comes to stretching you may be exceeding your range of motion, or you may be stretching connective tissue rather than muscle. You also may have an injury or slight strain in a muscle that you didn’t notice until you started stretching, and stretching is could exacerbate the injured area. It is possible to overstretch muscles, so listen to your body. Hold a static stretch where you feel the stretching sensation, without making the mistake of thinking that if you stretch a little further, it will make the stretch better or more effective. Sometimes less is more.

 
Stretching tips from a personal trainer - why you need to stretch, when and how to do it, explained!
 
Do you stretch regularly?
 
What’s your favorite stretch? I love using child’s pose to stretch our after a workout.

Comments

  1. As a matter of fact I do stretch regularly. As a former dancer I immediately start feeling stiff if I don’t. These are all such great tips!
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  2. Stretching has always been part of my morning routine. Thank you for great tips.