Are You Ignoring This Important Bit of Your Workout? Stretching Explained!
Guest post by Stephany Tamer, Physical Therapist and Personal Trainer.
As promised in my previous post on “The 4 Best Tips to Avoid Injury at the Gym”, I will be discussing today another crucial part of your workout program!
As a physical therapist, I always send patients home with a specific stretching routine for their neck problems or lower back discomfort. The mechanism of stretching is very important for your muscle fibers in many situations, let me walk you through it.
The effect of stretching after a workout
So usually, and I’m quite sure of it, here’s how an hour at the gym goes.
Let me start by congratulating you for having the determination and the willpower to take this decision in the first place. I will never stop saying that “Exercise is Medicine.”
Gym session in progress
Now you’re at the gym with all the gear you need, mentally ready to crush this workout and head back home. Ten minutes in, you’re starting to feel the sweat, your breathing is changing, and your heart is pumping faster.
Thirty minutes later you’re starting to count your reps eager for them to finish already. Here’s the best part, now you’re done with your workout, great job! You look in the mirror, you look like a mess but who cares, because that’s the best mess you’ll ever make.
You’re so proud of yourself (and you should be) and can’t wait to get home, have a shower and relax.
This is where I would interfere and stop you from leaving the gym because you’re not actually done. A lot of people hate spending those 10-20 extra minutes at the gym after their workout and I never understand why. You know that you’re not getting full benefit without these extra minutes, right?!
After a workout, when your muscles are exhausted and working, they tend to shorten a little. That’s just a kind of defense mechanism that happens naturally. And that’s why it’s important to stretch them out.
When we stretch after a workout:
- We increase blood flow to the target muscle after applying each stretch. And if you’re slightly into biology you’ll know that blood flow brings with it oxygen and many other components that help with healing
- As you stretch the muscle, you’re helping it maintain its initial length before you started your workout, so that would help avoid any future problems over time
Ever since a study was performed in the 1960s, stretching was highly advised after workouts, and every professional would advise you to do the same.
Now I know that sometimes you might be in a hurry, and 20 minutes will make you late. But you can always find a solution to that, for example:
- Try going earlier to the gym, or maybe waking up 30 minutes earlier if you work out in the morning
- Avoid chitchatting while working out, it saves a lot of time at the end
- You can always reduce the stretching time to 7-10 minutes but ONLY when you’re in a hurry. Don’t make short stretching times a habit!
How to perform a proper stretch
The worst thing you can do while stretching is BOUNCE. Bouncing is when you do small movements while holding a muscle in an elongated form. This form of stretching is called “Ballistic Stretching” which can stretch your muscle too far and too fast. So it forces your muscles to exceed their limits without noticing, and this could easily lead to a pulled muscle.
Our goal here is “Static Stretching.” In this form of stretching, you’ll be giving your muscles what they need.
To perform a stretch, you can follow these tips:
- Do it when your muscles and body are still warm
- Use the proper form. Never ruin your form in order to go further in a stretch. After a few times of proper stretches, your body will take you there naturally.
- Never ask anyone to push you further, nor push anyone else further into a stretch. Stretching is really delicate and everyone should perform it with respect to their physical abilities.
- Hold a stretch for 20-30 seconds and then release it, repeating it 3 times on each side
- BREATHE, BREATHE, BREATHE! Always inhale deeply before moving, and as you move into the stretch exhale slowly and continue breathing for the entire 30 seconds slowly
- Don’t bounce, just hold your position, rest is coming I promise
- Stretch all the muscles that were activated during your work out
- Ask your trainer for proper form and everything you need to know, remember “there are no dumb questions.” So, ask for every detail to perform properly.
Here’s a short video that could guide you during your next stretching session. Make sure to maintain each move for 30 seconds and repeat on each side 3 times.
Stretching to me is the second most important thing to our body after water. It really has so many benefits, not only after a workout. You can always perform small stretches during the day if you sit for too long on a desk.
Or if your work is somewhat physically demanding jobs, I suggest you always end your day with a 20-minute stretch before you go to sleep. Here’s a stretching routine I really love from Alo Yoga:
You will never really understand the benefits before actually trying it for a few times. It takes time, but you’ll thank me later!
Take home message
Stretching is one of the many ways to treat your body, so if you workout often always end your workout with a stretch. If you don’t workout (I hope you start soon), you should also incorporate a stretching routine at the end of your day. Always breathe while stretching and focus on your position.
If you'd like to get started on your workout and don't know where to start, you can check out one of my home-based workout programs!
IFPA certified Fitness Personal Trainer