What role does stretching play in your workout routine?
Most people in the health and fitness community will tell you that stretching is good for you, but the agreement ends there. In terms of anything more than that — how often should I stretch? What types of stretches should I be doing? Should I stretch before or after a workout, or both? — you will find thousands of camps, each with thousands of equally legitimate-sounding studies backing up whatever their personal belief is about the role of stretching in the workout. We did a quick roundup online of what the research is really saying about stretching. Some experts even suggest that taking time to stretch during your workouts, rather than before or afterwards, is the most beneficial type of stretching you can be doing for your body.
Certified Pilates instructor Sarah James recently spoke with Well+Good to discuss her “stretch intervals” method, which consists of taking time to stretch in between reps during strength training: “It’s using time while you’re resting to get energy for your next exercise—you might as well be stretching, because you’re [using] every second of your time in a smart way.” Basically, since most of us just about collapse from exhaustion in between sets anyways, her view is that doing light stretching instead is a great way to maintain the body’s equilibrium. The goal when working out is always to keep yourself as consistently active as possible for the duration of the workout. So, if you stretch between sets instead of lying on the floor like a beached whale, you’re doing a much better job of keeping your body fluid and in motion for as long as possible.
Another universal truth of stretching is that it increases flexibility. In the bodybuilding world, we tend to minimize flexibility as a way of thinking about the body in favor of traits we might prefer: strength, muscle mass, definition, etc. But here’s why it does matter to us: flexibility means durability. Flexibility isn’t just useful in helping you touch your toes; flexibility helps your body heal faster, acclimates your muscles to change, and, most importantly, flexibility significantly reduces your chances of sustaining a serious injury in the gym. (At least, if you’re working out correctly, it does.) The range of motion you have in your joints shouldn’t be overlooked, whether your lifting weights or doing squats. Injuries like torn muscles, rotator cuff injuries, and even sprained ankles can keep people out of the gym for weeks or even months. So, flexibility is not only one of the core principles of fitness, it’s also an important preventive health measure.
Harvard Health gathered data from the American College of Sports Medicine on the perfect way to stretch. Their panel concluded that stretching is necessary at least two or three times a week, even for those who are not athletic, as a healthy part of body maintenance. So, for those of you who are working your bodies hard in the gym every day, stretching should be an every day thing as well, otherwise you’re not maximizing your workouts.
How do you stretch when you do your workouts? Let us know in the comments below!