The benefits of stretching
I am Pilates trained and absolutely love the stretch element of this discipline. I also feel a lot better after a long day or a hard workout, for having a good old stretch out. However, there are two schools of thought on stretching as part of your workout routine. There is little doubt that stretching before you exercise is a very good idea. Stretching, specifically more dynamically before you start your workout, warms up your muscle fibre’s and the synovial fluid inside your joints (particularly your shoulders and hips). It also prepares your body and mind for harder work.
There are a number of different stretches that are a great full body combination. Some of my favourites are below. If you repeat these for between 30 – 60 seconds each, then this will really give you a good start to your workout:
Shoulders: Swing your arms to the front and backwards keeping your shoulders at about 90 degrees, overlapping at the front and stretching your chest muscles when you arms swing backwards.
Hamstrings: Standing with feet slightly wider than hip width apart, roll down and touch the floor with your hands (if you can reach). Stay here for a few seconds, then roll back up. This will stretch out your hamstrings at the back of your legs and also give your vertebrae on your back a chance to loosen up.
Glutes: Lying on your back, cross one leg over the other, hold your knees with your hands and pull your knees towards your chest. Repeat on the other side with your legs crossed the other way.
Hips: Stand on one leg and swing your other leg backwards and forwards, making sure you hold on to something for balance if you need to. Repeat on the other side.
Back: a simple top half swing from one side of your body around to the other side and keep repeating. Slightly bend your knees and keep your hands up to your chest and your hips facing forward. The twist comes from your trunk.
To view demonstrations of these stretches (and others) please go to my Instagram page @work_in_your_work_out
Stretching after your workout:
Personally I find it very beneficial, both for my Clients and when I have finished my own workout, to have a stretch out of the major muscle groups that have just been worked. I find it calms the mind just as much as your body, brings your heart rate back down and is a good way to ‘book end’ the session with the ability to prepare yourself to leave the gym and move on to what you are doing next. If I just stop my workout and just leave the gym, I feel like I have missed something! I also tend to ache more the next day if I haven’t stretched.
I have had discussions with some other sports professionals that disagree, however. There is the argument that stretching at the end of your session is only further stressing the muscles you have just worked. If your muscles have been worked, they are going to ache the next day, regardless of the stretching you do. This is specific for muscle stretching though, it doesn’t take into account bringing your heart rate down and calming the mind as you finish your session.
A number of exercise disciplines focus the whole session on stretching, not just as part of your workout. For example, Pilates and different forms of Yoga. I also run a class called ‘Stretch & Flex’ that is a whole hour dedicated to stretching the different muscle groups. My Clients find it very relaxing, leaving you with a feeling of wellbeing and both mental & physical calm at the end of the day. Some of the class attendees are very fit and workout almost every day and find it really helps with their muscle recovery times and flexibility.
I hope hearing both sides of the argument will help you to understand further and make up your mind how you feel about stretching, plus some further ideas as to how it can help.
If you would like to join me for the WIYWO Stretch & Flex Class, its on a Wednesday evening at 7pm (via Zoom). If you prefer Pilates then this class is on a Thursday at 5pm (via Zoom). Please contact me via email on Rebecca@wiywo.com for booking details or visit www.wiywo.com