Learn how and when to stretch to optimize muscle strength and gains.
All gyms have it, and for a lot of them it is mostly empty. A lot of people just ignore the stretching area for whatever reasons. It can be because they see stretching as a waste of time, others just don't know what to do there and how to do it, some believe it will hinder their strength and gains. One thing that is sure about stretching is that there is a lot of misconception regarding it. Here is what I learned through training.
Stretching before a workout
Everyone should stretch before a workout, but that doesn't mean it should be performed carelessly. Whether it is for strength gain, maximum performance, range of motion or to reduce risk of injuries, dynamic stretching before hitting a muscle group is what you want to do first in order to warm up the muscle. Once the muscle is warm, static stretching can be done to the muscle but you need to be careful. Static stretching of a specific muscle shouldn't be performed more than 45 to 60 seconds before a workout especially if you are going to follow with an explosive workout. The reason behind this is you don't want to relax the muscle to much before diving in a hardcore workout. If the muscle is too relaxed, it may not respond adequately to your exercise. Some studies have shown that long period of static stretching before a workout significantly increases the risk of injuries and reduces strength. It is often misleading because a lot of people are told to stretch well their muscles before a workout in order to reduce the risk of injuries. Stretching itself will not reduce the risk of injuries, but it will warm up the muscle and that will reduce the risk of injuries.
Stretching during a workout
If you are thinking about stretching during a workout, here is what you need to know in order to maximize muscle growth and strength. You want to stretch the antagonist muscle of the one you are working on. For example, if you are doing push-ups you can stretch your lats between sets but make sure you don't stretch the pectoral muscle.
Stretching after a workout
Stretching after a workout is often believed to reduce muscle soreness and to accelerate muscle recovery. Unfortunately, stretching doesn't help muscle recovery or muscle soreness when it is done after a workout, though it doesn't mean it shouldn't be performed. Stretching after a workout may make you feel better in your body, but it will mostly help to keep or increase your range of motion, which is important.
Stretching on rest day
I often hear people whining on their rest days about how they would like to train but they can't because it is rest day for them. Guess what? Stretching is here for you! From my experience, people benefit the most from stretching on their rest days. It won't help you recover from your last workout, increase your strength or muscle growth, but it will help you increase your range of motion and mobility. For a lot of us, our lack of mobility is what holds us back from fully using our strength in some exercises like squats, deadlifts, dips, pull-ups. Having good mobility and range of motion won't make you stronger by itself, but it will help you fully use your strength.
Things to keep in mind
- Always listen to your body, especially if you are injured.
- Never perform forced stretching on a cold muscle.
- When talking about stretching, it is important to keep in mind that we are not all tight in the same area. Some people will find greater gains in developing their hips while others will focus on their hamstrings.
- We do not all perform the same activities, thus we do not need the same range of mobility. If you are a runner, a fighter, powerlifter, bodybuilder, gymnast or a skater, you don't want to stretch the same way as others do.
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