I’ve NEVER been flexible.
Hamstrings, quads, hips, back, calves, glutes – my muscles and joints are in a constant state of stiffness.
I’ve dealt with on-and-off hip and lower back flare ups for 12-18 months, probably related to lifting weights 4-5x a week for the last decade. However, in recent months, I have made a conscious effort to stretch more when I’m outside the gym.
How to Stretch
According to the American College of Sports Medicine:
To stretch a muscle, it should be put in a position that produces a slight pull on the muscle but not to the point of pain. With a static stretch, the position in which a slight stretch is felt should be held 15-30 seconds, and each stretch should be repeated 3-5 times on each side of the body.”
Also from the article:
“ACSM guidelines recommend that stretching activities be done at least two days per week. If you have lost some joint motion or feel stiff, range of motion or stretching activities should be done daily.”
To Stretch or Not to Stretch?
There have been a lot of conflicting studies on the effects of stretching.
This article cites many studies that suggest stretching is unnecessary. I have read through these studies (and many others), and the information goes both ways (This piece does a great job breaking down the various studies).
Some studies suggest stretching is beneficial for increased range of motion, reduction of injuries, and the improvement of athletic performance. Others conclude there is little to no statistical significant evidence to support this.
Yet one study found participants who stretched for 40 minutes, three times a week, experienced increased flexibility, strength and endurance.
I believe the conflicting studies are due to the difficulties encountered when trying to isolate the effects of stretching from other factors such as strength training, cardiovascular activities, and nutrition/lifestyle choices.
From this summary of studies:
Static, dynamic, and pre-contraction stretching are all effective methods of increasing flexibility and muscle extensibility; however, these modes may be more effective in specific populations. Several authors have noted an individualized response to stretching; therefore, stretching programs may need to be individualized.
Each person will respond to different types of stretching techniques. Try out different combinations, including both static and dynamic stretches, and decide for yourself if you feel see a difference in range of motion.
Stretching will remain a part of my health and wellness routine for the foreseeable future. I stretch a few times a week for 10-15 minutes – usually a few hours before I go to sleep.
In a month or two, I have increased the flexibility in my hips and have avoided any flare-ups in my lower back. I have also found increased range of motion in my legs (including knee joints) from consistent hamstring stretches, which is in line with this study.
After a stretch, I feel GOOD. It’s as simple as that.
Products to Help You Stretch
You don’t need much to stretch. I have used a foam roller once or twice, but not nearly enough to comment on its benefits. I know some people swear by it (do you?)
There are two stretching products I swear by.
- ProStretch Unilateral Stretching System (the “rocker boot”): This plastic rocker is phenomenal at stretching out the calf muscle and ankle joint. For three years it has kept helped me avoid a recurring occurrence of plantar fasciitis (thanks flat feet).
- Thera-Band Stretch Strap: The strap has multiple loops for your foot, and allows you to do an abundance of static and dynamic stretches, all from the comfort of your home.
I own both of these products. I use the ProStretch rocker daily in the morning, and the stretch strap 3-4 times a week.
A warm up routine is vital before weight lifting
Some studies have determined pre-workout stretching should be avoided.
I have never had a proper warm up routine before my workouts. That changed after reading Bigger Leaner Stronger by Mike Matthews. This routine has worked incredibly well for me, and I hope you give it a try.
As found on his website, Muscle for Life:
First Warm-Up Set
12 reps with 50% of your working set weight
Rest 60 seconds
Second Warm-Up Set
10 reps with 50% of your working set weight
Rest 60 seconds
Third Warm-Up Set
4 reps with 70% of your working set weight
Rest 60 seconds
Fourth Warm-Up Set
1 rep with 90% of your working set weight
Rest 120 seconds and then start your workout
Remember – this routine is only to be done before your FIRST exercise, and not to be repeated in later exercises.
15 Stretching Videos For Better Flexibility
When I decided to begin stretching on a regular basis, I went to YouTube and did some research. I found a bunch of videos that do a thorough job of explaining and demonstrating various stretches. As a bonus – I share my favorite stretching videos below (organized by muscle type)!
1. How to Stretch Your Chest (and How Not To)
2. Chest Stretches To Do After Your Workout –
3. Good Shoulder Stretching Exercises –
4. The Best Hamstring Stretch Ever
5. How To Stretch The Hamstrings
Hips & Glutes
6. Three Stretches To Cure Tight Hip Flexors
7. Stretch Routine For Hip Mobility & Flexibility
8. How To Really Stretch Your Quads
9. Neck Stretch Exercises For Pain, Tension & Stress Relief
10. Four Critical Stretches That Cure Your Worst Imbalances
11. Stretching Your Calf Muscles
12. Lower Back Stretches
13. Upper Body Active Stretch Workout
14. Lower Body Stretching Routine for Flexibility
15. Flexibility Stretches For Dancers, Cheerleaders & Gymnasts
Stretching for flexibility isn’t the most exciting thing you will do.
It doesn’t have to be.
Make time 2-3 times a week to give your muscles and joints a good stretch. You won’t be disappointed.
Until next time.
Do you suffer from chronically tight muscles? Any techniques or stretches you recommend?
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