Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
The cumulative effect of stretching
Stretching once today won’t magically give you perfect flexibility. You’ll need to do it over time and remain committed to the process. “It may have taken you many months to get tight muscles, so you’re not going to be perfectly flexible after one or two sessions,” says physical therapist David Nolan of Massachusetts General Hospital. “It takes weeks to months to get flexible, and you’ll have to continue working on it to maintain it.”
A hamstring stretch will keep the muscles in the back of your thigh flexible. Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you. Slide your hands down your legs until you feel a burning sensation. Hold for 30 seconds, then slowly return to a sitting position.
We used to believe that stretching was necessary to warm up the muscles and prepare them for activity. However, mounting research has shown that stretching the muscles before they’re warmed up can actually hurt them. “When everything is cold, the fibers aren’t prepared and may be damaged. If you exercise first, you’ll get blood flow to the area, and that makes the tissue more pliable and amenable to change,” says Nolan. All it takes to warm up the muscles before stretching is five to 10 minutes of light activity, such as a quick walk. You can also stretch after an aerobic or weight-training workout.
Hold a stretch for 30 seconds. Don’t bounce, which can cause injury. You’ll feel tension during a stretch, but you should not feel pain. If you do, there may be an injury or damage in the tissue. Stop stretching that muscle and talk to your doctor.
Stretching is one part of a workout that is easy to ignore. For whatever reason, many bodybuilders jump into the workout, get it done, and leave without a second thought as to offering our bodies some relief. Or worse, we know we should stretch but find some excuse to leave the gym before our guilt takes over. Don’t skip out on stretching and lose muscle growth.
For those who want those big muscles and toned aesthetic but hold out on stretching and don’t bother, you’re missing out on the opportunity for big gains with your muscles in and out of the gym to aid in your overall bodybuilding and flexibility goals.
What stretching actually does is stretch a connective tissue, known as fascia, that surrounds your muscles and expands the space around them allowing for more room for your muscles to grow. So without doing a simple routine before and after a workout, you are only limiting the gains you worked so hard the last hour for. Forget muscle size for a second.
Stretching primarily aids in recovery and can help avoid injury while also aiding in range of motion, keeping you in the gym and not stuck on the couch. What starts as pain and tightness can lead to a host of unfortunate possibilities resulting in injury or worse for bodybuilders from a lack of range of motion.
With the ability to increase flexibility, range of motion, and muscular strength, and avoid injury, stretching should be at the center of your pre-and post-workout even before touching a weight. That tightness and pain can be uncomfortable in the gym, limiting your body’s ability to work at maximum capacity, and can bleed over into your everyday life. Don’t let careless procrastination or a stigma stop you from achieving those gains. A simple static stretching routine can lead to you looking and feeling great proving to the naysayers who is in charge.
The Role Of Fascia
Fascia is a tough connective tissue that encloses the muscles keeping them in place in your body. Fascia hugs the muscle tight and can restrict muscle growth, hence why stretching is important. The best time to stretch is right after working for a muscle group because the muscles are full of blood, pushing on the fascia and creating pressure. That tight, swollen feeling after a good set of bicep curls or a mean bench press is an example of this.
By stretching this muscle group right after training them, you add more pressure to the fascia, leading to expansion and ultimately big gains. Stretching is great for a pre-workout warm-up, a post-workout recovery session, or mid-workout expansion to ensure you stay on top of your game and looking bigger than ever, either with static stretching or dynamic stretching, to help with posture as well.
Shoulder stretches are great for relieving muscle tension, pain, or tightness in both your shoulders and neck. As an important point of connection between your arms and upper body, your shoulders should be a focal point of stretching to keep you nimble and loose to really enhance your training routine.
This basic shoulder stretch starts with your right arm across your chest. With your left hand, pull gently toward your body and hold for a brief pause. Repeat by following the same idea for your left arm and this stretching exercise will work wonders for your training routine.
Another great shoulder stretch requires a towel or a band but can be really beneficial. Using a band, place your left arm above your head and grasp the band, letting it hang down your back. Grab the lower end with your right hand and slowly raise your left hand. Start slow with this and as you develop more flexibility, feel free to push it a little more. Repeat the same steps and switch arms with a comfortable position.
This stretch is great to target your chest, shoulders, and biceps. As a focal point for many bodybuilders, these three muscle groups tend to take a beating in the gym and a good, solid stretch can alleviate much of the discomfort and tension that comes with working so hard and stretching for flexibility to promote better exercise.
A stationary object is required for this workout to enhance your training. Holding onto whatever object you are using, extend your arm. Rotate your body gently away from the object while keeping a solid posture. You will feel the stretch and it is important to not push it too hard. Only do what your body allows. Hold for however long you desire, but ideally around 30-60 seconds. Repeat the same process with the other arm muscles.
Two commonly overlooked muscle groups for stretching are your triceps and lats. Triceps stretching can prevent tightness, increase circulation, and aid in flexibility. Your lats are the largest muscle in the upper body and stretching is crucial for injury prevention and increasing your range of motion for your muscles and exercise.
This simple stretching technique is great for both groups. Start with both arms extended overhead. Bend one arm down behind your head and with the opposite hand, grab your elbow. Gently pull on the elbow until you feel the stretch in your triceps and lats. Hold for however long you desire and repeat with the other side to really stretch your muscles.
Upper Body Stretch
This upper body stretch may seem silly at first, but it is great for giving that all-around stretch. With nothing truly required except a chin-up bar, this stretch is more than easy and can give your upper body everything it needs for your muscles, like your back, to succeed.
Grab the chin-up bar with both hands and hang it for as long as you desire. Try different grips and relax with your breathing. You should feel this stretch in the entire upper torso.
While the upper body usually gets most of the attention, you should never neglect your legs. Those two limbs that keep you grounded are vital and should never be taken for granted. For tight quads and hip flexors, this exercise is a great two-in-one stretch to really work your hips, lower body, and aid in better workouts.
Start in a kneeling lunge position. Your front knee should be bent at 90 degrees and your back leg should be extended behind you. With a tight core and glutes, gently reach back and grab your back foot, pulling it toward your hip. You will be able to go deeper into the stretch by relaxing and breathing into it. Repeat the same process for the other side and feel the great effects stretching has to offer for your muscles.
While stretching may seem boring and potentially useless, it is quite the contrary. Stretching provides a host of benefits to your daily workout routine and will make you feel great. Whether it be injury prevention, increased flexibility, mobility, and circulation, or muscle expansion, stretching will allow those gains to be made with no extra work. Try these simple stretches pre-and post-workout for a warm-up and recovery, or mid-workout for that serious muscle size expansion we all work hard for. Start stretching and see those gains in action.
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