When I started working out years ago, I always brushed off stretching as a waste of time. I just didn’t have the patience for it. I needed immediate gratification, so if the exercise didn’t get me more pumped and toned then I wasn’t going to do it. I would rather put up with my muscles feeling tight and a bit sore the next day then burdening myself with a few simple stretches. But as I got older, I started experiencing lower back pains and more severe muscle aches. This is when I decided to put the weights down and embrace stretching. I started feeling much better and even got stronger as a result.
Stretching is one of the most important parts of your workout. It helps increase mobility, loosen muscles, increase blood flow, speed up recovery time, and help prevent future injuries. The question is how do you stretch and when? Most people do static stretching at the end of their workout which is essential and the right time to do it. Studies have shown that performing static stretches prior to a workout reduces muscular strength in the short-term. But wait a second–that doesn’t mean you should go right into working out once you get to the gym, as a vast majority of us do. Dynamic stretching won’t decrease your strength and is great to do prior to a workout. This involves gently propelling your muscles to their maximum range of motion. These sorts of movements will make you more efficient for your workout by giving you more flexibility which will result in better form and an increase in overall strength in the long term. Leg & arm swings, knee raises, and high kicks are a few examples of dynamic stretching.
Personally, my favorite pre-workout stretch is foam rolling. The foam roller is that cylinder shaped object that you sometimes see hiding in the corner of your gym. Women are the ones that typically incorporate it in their stretching since they were probably taught in dance class or gymnastics – at least that is my guess. You will seldomly see men using a foam roll and if you do they tend to be the most athletic and fit in the gym. I never really understood how it worked, until my trainer walked me through how to properly use it. Now I can’t get enough. Foam rolling is a self-myofascial technique, aka a deep tissue massage, used to help decrease density and over-activity in your muscles. It will help you break down tight muscles and knots, improve your blood flow, and increase your mobility for that upcoming hardcore workout.
When performing foam rolling exercises, you are going to want to apply your weight on the roller in order to find those tender areas also called trigger points. Start to roll back and forth around the trigger point for 30-60 seconds. For those of you doing this for the first time this may really hurt so you are going to want to ease your way into it. The pain will begin to subside over the following weeks and you will feel your knots start to dissolve. To begin, try these 7 foam roller stretches:
More stretches: Dance Stretches for Splits
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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling