Important Stretches to do Before Every Workout

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.

Quad stretch

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.

Trunk stretch

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.

Bridge

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.

Standing stretch

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.

Hamstring stretch

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.

How to Become More Flexible

The focus on flexibility often gets overshadowed by the desire for increased strength or improved endurance when it comes to our fitness routines. However, flexibility is a key part of a comprehensive workout regimen, which makes it important for us to have a better range of motion.

Flexibility helps decrease the chance of injuries, while increasing muscle strength and balance. It can also aid in improved posture, lengthened muscles for a leaner look, and in some cases, it can enhance athletic performances.

Flexibility is not only important for our workout routines. Elasticity declines as we age, so the incorporation of these types of exercises and movements are valuable for our day-to-day activities as well.

According to JustStand.org, studies have shown we sit an average of 7.7 hours a day! Sitting for such long periods of time can easily cause our muscles to tighten up and eventually cause long-term pain and discomfort. Even if we don’t always have time for the gym, there are ways to become more flexible.

Say “Yes” to Yoga or Pilates

Want a way to improve flexibility while also focusing on your mind-body connection? Incorporate yoga or Pilates into your weekly routine for a well-rounded workout that focuses on all parts of the body. Mindful breathing and holding poses for longer periods of time contribute to a stronger sense of balance and flexibility. Over time, you will see the difference in how you look and feel the difference in how you move.

Don’t Skip Stretching

Do you stretch as often as you should? Our bodies can benefit when we start and end our workouts with stretching, but too often it’s skipped. Not only does stretching help keep our bodies limber, it just feels great, too.

There are both dynamic and static stretches you can do pre- or post-workout, but also several you can perform while sitting at a desk or on the couch. The upper body often becomes strained and stiff by constant hunching or slouched posture throughout the day. One easy, go-to stretch is to lace your hands behind your head and pull back gently to release your back and shoulder muscles.

Keep Moving

Dynamic stretching, such as windmill exercises, walking lunges, or jumping jacks, are basic movements meant to keep our muscles engaged and warm up our bodies for a workout. Another way to stay active is to take a 10-minute break every few hours to walk around the block and loosen up the limbs. Finally, simply standing rather than sitting immediately improves posture and helps burn extra calories.

These are three of the many ways to achieve greater flexibility and prevent muscles and joints from becoming too stiff from lack of activity. You may notice there will be days your flexibility will be better than others, which is perfectly normal. Don’t overdo it and risk the possibility of an injury.

Find what works best for you. Listen to your body and know your limits as you strive to meet your fitness goals and keep your body in healthy shape.