Ever since I was 12, I remember being able to do the splits. I have been very flexible for most of my life, but that wasn’t always the case. It took many years of working at it consistently to get my flexibility to the point it is as now. Now what I do is a more complex and well thought-out warm-up and foam roll routine in order to maintain the flexibility I worked so hard to attain when I was younger. The importance of stretching is crucial to become elite in any sport, and it is just as important to the Average Joe since it can reduce injury and help you a get into better positions for every lift. I have read a lot of articles, and research seems to show that 10 minutes of dynamic stretching is the best way to go about warming up, contrary to the static stretching that most people use before their workouts. In this article, I’ll give you two effective stretching routines that you can use around your workouts, and explain the differences and benefits associated with some different types of stretching. As a side note, we will not talk about PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) Stretching here, which can also be utilized effectively around your workouts, but will instead focus on other methods. There are two types of stretching that should be performed around your workout – Dynamic and Static.
Dynamic stretching is a series of calisthenics, where the body is in constant motion to warm up the joints and get blood flowing in the muscles. This is performed before the workout to prevent over-stretching of the muscles, which static stretching could cause.
Here is a series of stretches that I usually include in a dynamic warm-up:
1. High Knees - This exercise is a good way to kick off the warm-up by getting the blood flowing in the legs and warming up your hip flexors.
2. Butt Kicks - This exercise is performed to stretch the vastus medialis, as well as the quad muscles.
3. Scissor Kicks - Kicking your foot up to your hands out in front of you helps to loosen up the hamstrings as well as spinal erectors.
4. Hurdle Walks - These are performed by lifting your leg straight out in front of you with the knee bent at a 90 degree angle, then rotating your leg out to the side from your hip joint, stretching as far as you can. They help to loosen the hip joint with both anterior and interior rotational movement.
5. Lunges - Performed to loosen both the inner groin of the forward leg and the upper quad of the posterior leg.
6. Toe Touches - This movement helps to loosen the hamstrings, as well as lower back.
7. Alternating Side Lunges - These will loosen up the inner groin and quad muscles to help alleviate any tension, and help to reduce the risk of an injury occurring.
This dynamic stretching routine helps to loosen up all the joints and prepare your body for movements in every plane and angle without risking any over-stretching of your muscle tissues. All it requires is about five minutes and 10 yards of space, but doing a proper warm-up can help to ensure that you stay injury free while you are lifting.
Static stretching is a type of stretching with minimal or no movement allowing a more direct stretch to a certain muscle group by holding the stretch for 10-30 seconds. This is performed after the workout to loosen up the already worked and warmed muscles and help them cool down. This type of stretching will prevent stiffness, soreness, and reduce potential injury.
These are some stretches that are commonly seen when doing static stretching:
1. Straight Legs- While standing, keep both feet together and reach down and try to touch your toes. If it is easy to reach your palms to the floor, you can intensify the stretch by grabbing the back of your shoe or heel, and pulling your nose to your knee. This will help to loosen the hamstrings and break down any acidity that built up in the muscles that were used.
2. Split Legged Stretches- While standing, spread your feet a little more than shoulder width apart and reach both hands to one leg, hold for about 20 seconds and then alternate legs. After you stretch to both sides, reach your arms between your legs and hold that position for another 20 seconds.
3. Quad Stretches- While standing, kick one foot to the opposite hand behind the back, and pull gently on your foot to increase the stretch. After 30 seconds, switch feet. You will feel this one mostly at the middle region of your quad based on the limited degree of stretching, look for the seated quad stretch to be a more intense stretch.
4. Cradle Stretches- While standing, kick one leg to the opposite hand in the front of your body while holding your knee with the other hand. Pull slightly upward with both like you are holding a baby. This stretch hits those IT bands a lot and really loosens up the lower back if there is any tightness occurring.
5. Seated Quad Stretches- While seated on the floor, leave one leg straight out while the other leg is tucked behind you with the toes facing down and the heel exposed. Do not have your ankle hyper flexed! Keep it tucked under you to prevent any hyper stretching. Carefully lay back as far as you can go to feel the stretch in the quad. Switch legs after thirty seconds. This will loosen the inner muscles far greater than any other quad stretch because of the angle the body allows more lengthening of the quad muscles.
6. Seated V Stretches-While seated spread your legs in a V position, reach both arms to one leg and lean your chest as close to your knee as possible. After thirty seconds switch legs and then reach hands out to middle and try to touch chest to floor for final stretch. This will loosen the high hamstring region that the straight-legged stretches could not get. Also by lying in the middle of the legs, you activate both hamstring muscles as well as get the depth to incorporate a lower-back stretch.
Both of these stretch series should be performed every workout for about 5-10 minutes before or after the appropriate time of the workout. These stretches can and should be done every day. They would work for any type of athlete but are mostly seen being performed by athletes with a high intensity of running. Sports that require a lot of strength are not likely to be seen performing these stretches, however, that does not rule them out that they are not beneficial for bodybuilders, power lifters, or Olympic weightlifters. The dynamic warm-up is perfect for before working out because it loosens the body and gets the blood moving without overstretching the muscles and leaving them limp when they should be springy and ready to recruit fast twitch fibers. Static stretching is good for after training because it breaks down the acidity in muscles and lengthens the muscles back to the proper position they need to be in to perform the next work out, whether it is that day or the next.
Utilize these two types of stretching around your workouts to keep your muscles limber and primed for action.
Kevin Cornell - Kevin is an elite athlete training for the 2016 Olympic Games. He is a certified USAW Coach and has numerous years of coaching and personal training experience. Being a competitive athlete for over 20 years, Kevin has learned a lot of professional tips in the sporting industry. He is best known for his flexibility and recovery methods that he stresses upon to his clients and uses effectively himself.