We’ve often been told to begin our workout with stretches but do we know if we need them at all? Why, yes! Stretching imparts flexibility which helps you zip through your training sessions. But stretching has a lot to offer and not just when it comes to exercise. Stretching can have wonderful calming effects – it energizes and relaxes. Here’s your ultimate guide to stretching.
Before or after the workout?
We’d say both. It’s good to stretch before your workout as it allows your body to warm up. It encourages blood flow to your muscles along with extra oxygen and nutrients required to pull through the workout. It prepares your body for the stress ahead.
“Before the workout, we focus on dynamic stretching where one does not hold the stretch but rather maintains movement. The purpose of this is to warm up the muscles and connective tissues to prepare for the workout ahead,”.
It is also equally important to stretch after the workout. Stretching helps in recovery as during the workout your muscles release some toxins which move into the bloodstream and can be eradicated if you stretch after your workout. Uday shares, “After the workout, we focus on static stretching wherein the muscle is stretched to its maximum range and held in that position for 10-30 seconds depending on the stretch and the level of advancement of the person."
He explains further that static stretching is crucial to improve flexibility. It helps in improving blood circulation and delivery of much-needed nutrition to the stressed muscles after a workout. “A more recently discovered benefit of stretching is that it opens up space for the muscle to grow. Muscles are surrounded by tight fibrous tissues called fascia which can restrict muscle growth unless properly stretched. For people looking to achieve muscle gain stretching is crucial but unfortunately often neglected,”.
Here are five easy stretching exercises that you must incorporate into your fitness routine to improve your flexibility and get that fit body of your dreams.
1. Hamstring Stretches: These stretches target the back of your legs. It’s best to do them at the end of a workout. Your hamstrings need to be flexible for a healthy back, hips, and knees. The reclined stretch, forward bend, scissor stretch, and standing hamstring stretch are some exercises that you can try.
2. Glutes Stretches: These exercises are great for back pain relief as they help in opening up tight hips. For glutes stretches you could use a foam roller. “Foam rollers are simple tools that help you stretch easily and effectively. They add immense value to your stretching regime,” says Uday.
Try the seated spinal twist. Extend your legs straight in front of you. Bend your right knee and place your right heel close to your sit-bone. Place your right arm behind you and place your palms on the floor. Place your left hand on your right knee and gently pull the knee to the left till you feel the pressure. Hold for 30 seconds, release and then repeat with the other leg.
3. Shoulder Stretches: Shoulder rolls and rotations are the best to give relief for tight shoulders. Another exercise that does wonders is the cow-face pose. Straighten your right arm and then bend it behind your head. Move your left arm behind your back while bending your elbow. Try to reach the right fingertips with your left arm and stretch. Repeat with the other hand.
If you have a sitting job, it increases the pressure on the soft tissues and joints in the shoulder area. This leads to stiff and sore shoulders. Also, since the shoulder is a part of your neck, ribs, and back, so the whole area depends on the movement of the ligaments and the muscles of the shoulder.
4. Abdominal Stretches: It’s quite helpful to stretch your abs post a core workout to prevent soreness or pain the next day. The cobra yoga pose is a great stretching exercise that you could try. You can also use an exercise ball to do side bends and spinal stretches.
5. Neck Stretches: You may have slept in the wrong position or you may have a sitting job, but that crick in the neck is not only annoying, it can also cause headaches and back pain. Stretch the sides of the neck for instant relief. You can also try the back neck stretch where you reach both your hands behind your back and hold on to the right wrist with your left hand. Straighten your arms and pull away slightly. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds, release and switch sides.
Before you begin stretching, Fitness expert Uday Raj Anand busts two common myths that you probably believed up until now.
Myth 1: Bodybuilders don’t need to stretch.
Fact: Everyone needs to! A common barrier to explosive muscle growth is the tight fibrous network of the facial tissues around the muscles. Stretching is essential to open up the space available for the muscle to grow.
Myth 2: You should focus on stretching the body part that feels sore.
Fact: The whole body is interconnected. Soreness in your hamstrings may be because of stiffness in your lower back or vice versa. Ever noticed why people with low back problems walk with their knees slightly bent? The pain in their lower back causes stiffness and a lack of flexibility in their hamstrings. Have a whole body workout routine to ensure overall flexibility and muscle health.
Don’t hold back, stretch away!