Optimize your strength training workout by stretching. I played many sports when I was young, and one of my biggest regrets is not stretching. If I was stretching I would have prevented many of the injuries I accrued, and I would have been able to stay in those sports longer.
Here are the things you need to know about stretching for strength training.
- Types of stretching
- Which types are best for strength training
- When is the optimum time to stretch
- How much flexibility do you want?
What are the Benefits? – Helps with Motivation!
- Enhance your flexibility, balance & range of motion
- Improve muscle function & circulation
- Calm your mind, decrease anxiety & depression
- Prevent injury & enhance performance in sports
- Decrease stiffness and pain
- Prevent cramps & sore muscles
- Speeds up the rate in which your muscle fiber’s proteins are synthesized, resulting in increased muscle tone
Types of Stretching – How Many Are There?
I have been strength training for about 5 years now, but before that I played many sports, did various exercise routines, and studied Tai Chi for several years. These are the types of stretching that I am aware of, but I am guessing some of you might say there are more. I’d love to hear from other women’s thoughts in the comments section.
- Static Stretching involves holding a stretch in a fixed position, usually for a period of at least 15 seconds and up to a minute. As long as you avoid stretching to the point of pain, this is a very safe form of stretching. It improves your range of motion and is good for loosening tight muscle. If you want to make more of your static stretching, you may want a Stretch Out Strap. I like this one as it comes with a poster to show you various stretch applications. I also look for straps that I can put my foot through the loop even in sneakers
- Dynamic Stretching – requires movement as part of the stretch. This improves your muscles ability to stretch while performing the movements involved in strength training. It also loosens up your joints. You have to be more careful with dynamic stretching than static stretching as you are more susceptible to injury.
- Foam-Roller Exercises – Using a foam roller has become quite popular for working out tight spots in muscles. You will now find them at most gyms. Generally they are 36 inches long, but you can find shorter ones. If you don’t have one, you can use some type of ball like a tennis ball. Both rollers and balls come in different sizes, firmness, and surface textures. You will want to experiment with what you like. People generally roll over an area for about 30 seconds and stop on the tender spots for 5 to 10 seconds. AmazonBasics High-Density Foam Roller is a good example of a foam roller. I prefer a firmer roller as the soft ones can get deform quickly. Once again this is a personal preference and you may even want different densities for various parts of your body.
- PNF, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is a stretching technique that can be used increase flexibility. It uses both contracting and stretching of muscles, and is sometimes done with a partner or trainer. This type of stretching was originally done as part of physical therapy, but is so effective that is has become pretty mainstream in gyms. We are not going to be focusing on PNF in this post, but thought you should be aware of the technique.
How Much Flexibility is Optimal? – Can You have Too Much?
This is a great question. How flexible do you want to be? From my research, too much can be a bad thing for strength training. Your goal is to have a bit more range than you need for your motion, but not excessively so. By moving past the normal range of a joint, you are risking joint dislocation, inflammation of tendons, and straining ligaments. There are some experts that disagree, stating that as long as you have a balance between the strength of the muscles and the flexibility you will not be prone to injury.
I happen to be one of the least flexible people I know. My muscles are very tight and I spend lots of time stretching to try to get to the normal range of motion never mind beyond. The stretching is worth it for me as I am pain free and can enjoy the activities I love. One physical therapist told me something that me feel much better about not being flexible. She told me that less flexible people are more likely to break a bone than to tear something. Sounds bad to me, but she informed me that a break is easier to recover from.
When to Stretch – Keeping your Body Safe!
I find it interesting that Delavier’s Stretching Anatomy states on page 19 that it is a disadvantage to do static stretching prior to a workout as it can cause a decrease in performance, while on page 431 of The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises says that you should do both static and dynamic stretching. Both authors agree that you should do Dynamic Stretching before a workout.
On the other hand, all my research says to do some static stretching after exercising. The static stretches should target the areas of the body you just worked on. In addition, you may want to go for a short walk or cardio equipment at a slow speed to cool down.
Personally, I do a 5-minute warm-up to get my blood flowing, generally a bike, elliptical, or treadmill. Stair climbers may be in the future, but having injured my Achilles many times, it is not my best option. After I warm-up, I then do both static and dynamic stretching. After exercising I will do more static stretching, making sure to do my neck as this is where I hold tension.
I know that this post is about stretching for strength training, but stretching at various points during the day is also very good for you. As a culture, we sit way too much. If you can keep your muscles loose during the day, then you are less likely to hurt yourself during a workout.
What to Takeaway?
Stretching is important for many reasons, especially as we get older. If you need help to motivate yourself to stretch, try reading over the benefits again as the reasons are plentiful. Maybe I should add having a good night sleep to the list because stretching is both mentally and physically relaxing. I forgot to mention that I do stretching as the last thing before I go to sleep. If I focus on releasing muscle tension, my mind follows. Otherwise, I get to bed and my mind is still racing, and I have tight muscles keeping me awake.
I will cover more specifics about each type of stretching, including foam rollers in a future post. Please leave me your feedback to let me know if I missed something or you feel some information is not quite right. This will help me update the post for future readers.
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Founder of Strength Training Books for Women.