Why do we stretch?
Not only does it help reduce the risk of injuries and increase blood flow to the muscles, it can improve flexibility and allow us to perform at a higher level. Before stretching “cold” muscles, it’s a good idea to start with a warm up. Light walking or other low-intensity exercises for five or 10 minutes can get the body going before stretching your legs, back, shoulders, and/or neck pre-workout.
There are two main categories of stretching: static and dynamic. With static stretching, the movements are slower and the positions are held for longer periods of time. Typically, this is most beneficial at the end of a workout. With dynamic stretching, the movements are repetitive and more challenging to help alleviate stiffness and loosen up the limbs before your regular workout or other fitness activity.
The American Council on Exercise considers stretching one of the five components of fitness. It lists numerous benefits of incorporating it pre- and post-workout, including improved posture and circulation, decreased risk of low back pain, and increased range of motion. There are several stretches you can do to get your workout off to a good start, but here are a few of the most common.
In a standing position, grab the top of your right foot behind you and bring it closer to the buttocks while slightly pushing the hip forward. Hold for several seconds before alternating to the left foot and repeating the same movement.
In a seated position, bend and cross the right leg over the outstretched left leg. Twist the body to the right allowing the left elbow to rest on the right knee. The important thing to remember with this stretch is to sit up straight and engage the core. Hold the position for several counts before switching sides.
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Raise your hips while keeping feet flat and the core engaged to protect the lower back. Hold the bridge for a few seconds at the top without allowing the glutes to droop. Then, slowly lower down and repeat.
While standing with legs hip-width apart, clasp your hands behind you and extend the arms. Slowly bend forward from the hips until the back is parallel with the floor in a “tabletop” position and raise the arms. Repeat the motion several times.
Either standing or seated, extend the leg you’re stretching out in front of you with a slight bend in the knee. Reach forward and grab your leg either at the shin or foot to help loosen up tight hamstrings.
Our bodies hold tension throughout the day. By stretching pre-workout, we help alleviate this stress on the muscles and joints as we get our bodies in prime fitness mode.
A complete workout starts with a warm up and ends with a cool down with stretch time buffering both ends. Take 5 or 10 minutes before every workout to incorporate a few dynamic stretching exercises and see how your body reaps the rewards.