Flossing, eating plenty of veggies, applying sunscreen… While we all know these are good for us, not everyone does them as often or as well as they should.
Stretching before a workout is another healthy habit that many people skip. Often, it’s because they don’t understand the importance of stretching or how much it could benefit their performance. And, even if they do attempt some form of stretching, it’s often badly-timed, half-hearted, or plain ineffective.
Want to know why stretching is so important? Keep reading to find out more about the benefits of stretching, as well as some great stretching exercises to try!
Dynamic vs Static Stretching
One of the main reasons to stretch before working out is to help open your body up. This prepares it for the activity you’re about to do. As such, a good stretching routine should allow your body to access a range of motions. It should also keep things fluid as your body re-establishes flexibility and functioning.
But, many people make the mistake of opting for a static stretching style before they begin a workout. A static stretch is one that you hold for a certain count while your body stays still. This style of stretch is more beneficial after exercise than before.
What you should be doing instead are dynamic stretching exercises. Dynamic stretches are active movements that encourage muscles and joints into their full range of motion. These can be as simple as lunges, arm circles, or jumping jacks. These lengthen and strengthen your muscles in preparation for exercise. But they also increase muscle temperature for better injury prevention.
The Benefits of Stretching Before Exercise
Plans and tips for working out any part of your body should devote time to proper stretching both before, during, and after the workout. But it’s perhaps even more vital to start your workout with a comprehensive and effective stretching routine. Some of the benefits of stretching before exercise are:
Many people make the mistake of thinking that running on the spot or another simple cardio-based warm-up routine is enough to prepare them for exercise. But your limbs and joints may not yet be warm enough to complete the range of movements you’re about to put them through.
Stretching elongates your muscle fibers and tissues, making them less susceptible to rips and tears during exercise. So, while you might feel warm after a quick jog, your muscles may still be stuck in position or holding onto tension. This is why shoulder injuries are so common. Even though you use your shoulders for everything from sweeping the floor to combing your hair, the amount of tension they carry means that you need to complete a wide range of stretches before your shoulders are ready for a workout.
Reduce Muscle Fatigue
Stretching activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn re-establishes control of the muscle fibers and reduces fatigue. As a result, you should feel more able to exercise for longer when you stretch well before a session as your muscles will be less likely to give up on you, as they might without sufficient stretching.
In particular, pay attention to the areas that need more time to wake up, such as your glutes. Doing so can make sure they’re ready to take you through longer and more intense workouts.
Increase Energy and Motivation
Blood accumulates in muscles that you haven’t used or lengthened for a while. Stretching encourages this blood to flow throughout the body rather than staying in one place. By revitalizing the circulation of blood to your muscles, you’ll soon experience a surge in energy and motivation levels.
Stretching also allows more blood to flow to the brain, especially if you’re stretching your neck and spine. As well as increasing your focus and concentration, this helps prepare you for your workout on a mental level, making you feel more inspired and determined.
Boost Oxygen Levels
Lack of oxygen flow can slow down your performance and may even lead to serious joint injuries due to overreaching muscles that aren’t ready to perform as required. Often, if you experience pain, tension, or aches when you first start to exercise, this is a sign that you don’t have enough oxygen in your bloodstream.
Stretching ensures that the blood flowing through your body to your muscle tissues and fibers is loaded with oxygen. This oxygenated blood allows for a wider range of movement, while also reducing the chance of injury or pain.
Improve Coordination and Flexibility
Stretching prepares your body for the extended positions and poses you’re about to put it under. By pre-empting more difficult or strenuous routines with a set of stretching exercises, you can look forward to better coordination, flexibility, and an easier range of movement. Whether you’re about to dance, run, or lift weights, better coordination means more freedom in your body and the way it moves.
Exercise is one of the best stress-busters out there. But it all starts with a good stretching session. This is when you’ll get rid of the tension that’s been building in your body throughout the day before heading into your workout feeling lighter and brighter.
Focus your stretch on wherever your body is holding the most tension, such as your upper back, shoulders, and neck. This can help to shake off the stress of work, family, and other commitments while also making sure your body is correctly aligned for a safe and effective workout.
Support Good Posture
While we’re on the subject of correct body alignment, stretching before a workout also helps support good posture and form, both throughout your workout and beyond. By working your way through a combination of fluid stretching movements before exercising, you can ensure that high-tension areas of your body, such as your shoulders, are relaxed and well-placed in preparation for your workout.
As a result of all the above benefits, you can also expect to perform better when you stretch before a workout.
The fresh oxygen in your body allows you to go faster, harder, and longer, meaning you’ll be more likely to top your personal best after a good stretch. The wider range of motion, better posture, and improved coordination that stretching gives you will make complex moves and difficult poses a lot easier. Limbering up by stretching also means you’ll have the energy and determination you need to go that extra mile. And, a stress-busting stretch will ensure you’re also mentally prepared to put your worries behind you and focus on your performance.
The Best Pre-Workout Stretches
The best stretching routines should be effective without taking hours out of your busy schedule. After all, if you only have 45 minutes to work out, you don’t want to spend half of that time stretching. But what kind of stretching exercises should you focus on before working out? Here are some of the best pre-workout stretches to try:
Squats – Before you load up with weights, try squatting as part of your dynamic stretching routine. This helps wake up the glutes and quads, some of the largest muscles in your body. But, form is important here. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed out. Engage your core, keep your chest up, bend your knees, and push back with your hips as you squat down to end up parallel to the floor.
High Knees – Stand with your legs beneath your shoulders and your back straight. Lift one knee to your chest, then switch from side to side, making sure to engage your core the whole time.
Arm Circles – Starting with your feet shoulder-width apart, extend your arms out to the side, until they’re parallel to the floor. Draw circles in the air with your arms using small, controlled movements. Increase the size of the circles over time until you feel a stretch in your triceps, then change direction to activate different muscles.
Jumping Jacks – Begin by standing straight with your legs together and arms flat by your sides. With your knees slightly bent, jump into the air while spreading out your legs and arms. Return to the starting position and repeat.
Hip Circles – Place your hands on the front of your hips and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Draw a circular motion with your hips, swinging round to the start. Repeat this motion then change direction.
The Importance of Stretching Before a Workout
When it comes to exercise tips, we’d go so far as saying that an effective stretching routine is the most important component. as this guide shows, without stretching beforehand, you’re far more likely to experience cramping, low energy, poor performance, and even injuries.
So, while it might be tempting to rush through a quick stretch before you start exercising, we hope you won’t make that mistake again now you know the true importance of stretching.
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