If anyone knows the importance of stretching, it's athletes. Stretching an essential part of improving overall performance, much like strength or endurance training, but it's often overlooked. Proper stretching can help promote mobility, help prevent injury and increase range of motion.
But with so many stretches to choose from (and many different types of stretches), it can be confusing trying to choose the right ones. Also, when is the best time to stretch? To help put an end to your confusion, we enlisted the help of three certified personal trainers who know athletes best.
Read on for the six stretches they recommend all athletes add to their repertoire!
First things first, what are the different types of stretches?
Believe it or not, there are seven different types of stretches, though depending on who you ask, the types vary. Generally, types of stretches include: static stretching, dynamic stretching, active stretching, ballistic stretching, myofascial release (foam rolling), functional stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). Here, we will be focusing on static and dynamic stretches — the two types that come to mind most frequently when you think of stretching.
Static is when you move the body into the end range of motion and then hold it. Dynamic stretches are active movements that prepare the muscles for exercise.
Why is stretching important?
Your elementary school PE teacher wasn't stretching the truth when they said that stretching is important. "Stretching increases muscle and joint mobility therefore decreases the risk of injury," says Gina Lombardi, Celebrity Fitness trainer, author and TV host.
If you plan to stretch before a workout, Lombardi suggests a 5- to 10-minute general warmup, since you never want to stretch while the body is "cold." Your warmup could could consist of running on a treadmill or going on a brisk walk — anything to get the blood pumping.
Since it's almost too easy to skip stretching, Robert Herbst, Personal Trainer, powerlifter and wellness expert, recommends this trick. "Think of stretching as a workout in itself. Just like you wouldn't skip that Monday night spin class, you shouldn't skip the chance to allow the body to recover," Herbst says.
Another benefit of stretching is the long-term results it provides. "Stretching takes on many forms, but making sure that the body is mobile and can move with control and strength will help us to stay strong and pain-free for a long time," explains Morit Summers, body-inclusive trainer with Boostcamp and author of Big & Bold: Strength Training For The Plus-Size Woman.
Since we age our bodies with a lot of modern-day comforts, like sitting, texting and staring at screens in less-than ergonomic positions, Summers says that stretching helps counteract the effects of these actions.
Should you stretch before or after a workout?
There's a lot of debate on this million-dollar question. While it's best to incorporate stretching into your warm up and cooldown, the type of stretch you do really depends on the timing.
You should perform dynamic stretches before a workout (think leg swings or walking lunges) and save static stretches (such as triceps stretch or calf stretch) for after your workout.
6 Stretches athletes should do post-workout
Whether you're training for a big goal or are just looking for a chance to unwind, give these six stretches a try.
Lively Note: Remember to never push uncomfortably past your flexibility limit.
1. Pigeon Pose
Start by sitting with your right knee bent and your left leg extended behind you. Pull your right heel into your left hip. You can push your right foot away from your hip if you are naturally more open. Be sure to keep your left hip down and square with the mat.
You can keep your hands resting on your right thigh or walk your hands out in front of you as far as feels comfortable, allowing your upper body to rest over your right knee. Hold and breathe into any areas that feel tight for five breaths. Repeat on other side.
Start on your hands and knees in tabletop position with neutral spine. As you inhale, move the body into the cow pose with your chest slightly raised and your stomach sinking toward the floor. Relax shoulders away from your ears and gaze straight ahead. On the exhale, move the body into cat pose by rounding the spine, tucking your tailbone, and brining head toward chest (without straining your neck) and breathe. Slowly return to starting position and repeat.
3. Hamstrings and lower back stretch
Start in a standing position, with left leg crossed over right. Bending at the waist, move hands down the back of your left leg, bringing your head down toward your knees. Go to the maximum point of extension where you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings but it is not painful, pause, then slowly stand back up to return to starting position. Repeat twice, trying to stretch a little further down each time if your body allows. Repeat on the other side.
4. Shoulder stretch
Hold your arm out straight at a right angle to your body and press the palm of your hand against the doorframe or rack. Rotate your body away from your hand so that you feel a stretch in the pec. Hold for 3 seconds and repeat 3 times. Repeat on other side.
5. Runner's lunge
Start in a high plank position with hands directly under shoulders. Step left foot forward to the outer edge of your mat, planting foot outside your left pinky finger.
Let your hips and back relax by letting them sink toward the ground. Hold for 30 seconds while breathing through the stretch. Repeat on other side.
6. Dead BugLie faceup on your mat. Bend knees and lift feet off the ground. Reach through legs and wrap your hands around the outside of your ankles allowing your elbows to press on your inner thighs for an even better stretch. Hold for 30 seconds.
Vital Note: This article has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Your licensed healthcare professional can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen.