Optimal Stretching Pre and Post Workout
By Victoria Ward, Contributor
We’re all aware of how important stretching is before and after our workouts, so why is it that we decide to skip those crucial exercise steps? Well, besides being time consuming, a lot of people, myself included, think stretching is boring, and easy to skimp out on. That’s why it was only after a laundry list of injuries that I became consistent with my pre and post workout stretches.
But it was by stretching often that I learned how to do so effectively and make it enjoyable. Here, I’m going to lay out the exact stretching regimen I personally use, step by step, so you can try it yourself. Don’t be lazy like I was and wind of injuring yourself—some injuries never go away, like my elbow tendonitis. So be proactive and put the work in.
For those who have access, dynamic movements in a warmed pool, such as those in aquatic physical therapy, provide a fantastic way to warm up. The warm water promotes blood circulation and loosens the muscles while the aquatic medium allows stretching to be done without strain on the joints, tendons and ligaments. This is ideal for most athletes, especially with taxed or worn joints. It would be smart to perform aquatic physical therapy at least once or twice a week for general wellness and joint health.
Those of us without an in-gym pool will have to perform our dynamic stretching routine on ground. It burdens the joints somewhat more in this setting, but it can be relatively safe provided you move slowly and precisely through the movements. I suggest finding a whole-body dynamic stretching routine and performing it before every workout session.
It is usually recommended to perform each movement for 10-15 repetitions, though I sometimes perform as many as 20-30 if my muscles feel tight.
After dynamic stretches, I’ll get in some band work, which has worked great for improving my joint health. Taking a low-resistance band, I’ll mimic the exercises to be performed that day and hold the band in a static position for 30 seconds, or until I feel ‘loose’. Something that’s helped my wrist and elbow health, which nobody seems to be talking about, is using rubber bands. I put my fingers through a rubber band and then open them so the band stretches. I do this for perhaps 100 repetitions in each hand a couple times a day and it’s made a huge difference in my elbow and wrist pain.
After your workout, you may find your muscles much tighter than usual. To remedy this, we utilize what are known as static stretches. Unlike dynamic stretches, static stretches involve holding a certain position for some amount of time—usually 20-60 seconds. To make static stretches interesting, try pulling just a little bit farther each session. As an example, try touching your toes—if you can, then your hamstrings are pretty flexible. Now try working up to pressing your hands flat on the floor. Once you can do that then you’ve worked up some serious flexibility.
The last step is jumping into a cold bath before massaging out the muscles to break up any knots, fascia, and reduce swelling. Using a foam roller, tennis ball, your knuckle, or anything else you could think of would be a good idea. This stops muscles from getting tight and ultimately prevents many injuries. Following this you should make sure to get plenty of rest so your body can recover. Don’t make the same mistake I did—do your stretches and do them often.
Victoria Ward is a freelance writer with a profound interest in psychology, holistic health, and fitness. Her hobbies include tennis, cooking, writing, and yoga. When she’s not working, she can be found playing with her corgi, Milo.
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