Stretch it out
“Strength work, both muscular and neurologically you want to prime your body to do it.”
Think you don’t have time for a stretch pre or post workout? Well you might want to change your mindset because swapping 10 reps for 10 minutes of stretching can actually help you get those gains you’re after as Aquanation personal trainer Chris Pattison explains.
First things first: what exactly is the point of stretching?
Maybe you’re in a rush or just hankering for some grub, whatever the reason - get stretching people! There are loads of benefits to giving your limbs some love whether you're working out at home or at the gym.
After putting your muscles under duress and shortening the muscles, Pattison says “stretching and foam rolling after exercise gets the blood flow going, prevents lactic acid build up and lengthens your muscle.”
He adds that If you don’t limber up “you’ll pull up sorer and your training will be less effective.”
How to stretch pre-workout
Okay so you’re on board with lengthening those limbs, here’s how to get the best out of your stretch sesh.
When it comes to stretching Pattison outlines two types of stretches: dynamic and static. We’re gonna kick off with dynamic because that’s all about your pre-game.
“For pre-workout do dynamic stretching, gentle movements while you’re actually moving where you’re warming up the muscles,” explains Pattison. The personal trainer suggests arm swings, leg swings any type of agility of mobility movements to gently lengthen the muscles and always keeping these moves relaxed.
If you’re not convinced you need to warm-up, Pattison warns that particularly with “strength work, both muscular and neurologically you want to prime your body to do it.”
He refers to power lifters, who might do seven or eight sets with just the bar itself, just to use it as a dynamic warmup so their bodies are ready for when they lift heavy weights.
And science has got his back, in 2005 The Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that if you want to lift more weights in your workout, dynamic stretching is the way to go.
How to stretch post workout
Here’s where static stretching comes in. Pattison recommends this type of stretch for post workout because you’re really lengthening the muscle after putting it under duress.
The personal trainer says some of the most commonly forgotten stretches are calf and lower limb stretches, because people often don’t realise they’ve actually worked their calves. “Doing exercises like box jumps or pushing the sled, you’re actually putting those lower limb muscles under stress,” explains Pattison.
And while a lot of gym goers stretch out hammies and quads, don’t forget your hip flexors as well because as Pattison points out “you will have engaged their posterior and anterior of your core during a strength workout,” Pattison recommends.
What about foam rolling
Foam rolling is another way to give your muscles some much needed TLC both pre and post workout and differs slightly to stretching it out.
And look, it’s not always a hoot getting on the roller, but the benefits far outweigh the slight discomfort.
“Your muscle structure is myofascial, so it’s almost like a spiderweb and your muscle tends to slide over one another internally, so foam rolling is really beneficial for breaking up that myofascial build up and pushing blood flow through the muscle,” explains Pattison.
Lengthen your muscles during your workout not just before and after.
Looking after your limbs doesn’t just occur when you’re in recovery or warm-up mode. For Pattison, when you’re doing your workout where it counts. In a nutshell, it’s all about your short game versus your long game to get them gains.
He describes working out as lengthening and contracting your muscles and more often than not “we underestimate the eccentric movement where you’re lengthening your muscle.”
Pattison refers to a bicep curl, where you might think the part of the exercise where you’re shortening the muscle is where you should focus. But really, concentrating on lengthening your muscle on the way down is really important because “you want to be putting a reasonable load through your muscle as you lengthen it to help build it.”
Ever counted out a move as you do it? There’s muscle building merit in that. If you were using a barbell for example, Pattison recommends following this method to lengthen and build your muscle.
“Use the four, two count where you go through the short, sharp concentric phase (where you shorten your muscle and lift the barbell) counting one, two, followed by the eccentric phase (when lowering it back down), you want to slow that movement down to a four count.”
He adds that if you’re being loosey goosey with the eccentric phase that’s when you’re likely to wind up feeling and stiff and sore. And don’t forget to rest in between to avoid injuries.
How to stretch if you’re a strength trainer vs those who love that runner’s high
Not all of us are reppin’ weights at the gym, especially if we’re having to tailor our workouts to outdoor activities (hello lockdown).
“If you’re a runner, a lot of your stretches are going to focus on your lower limbs such as calves, quads, glutes, hamstrings and core,” Pattison recommends. He ads that similar stretches are great for leg workouts in the gym.
“For upper-body, stretch out your chest and shoulders and back, they are the harder muscle groups to target and stretch but just ask one of our instructors they’ll help,” the personal trainer suggest.
And if you’re doing the whole shebang Pattison says, “do a whole body stretch, starting at your toes and work your way up.”
So simple, yet so effective.
Chris Pattison is an Aquanation personal trainer and has a Cert III and IV in Fitness, Level 1 and 2 Padwork for boxing and a Beck Health Certificate of Nutrition and Diet. Learn more.