Start with the Basics
When incorporating stretching into your workout, you should take a two-phased approach. The first phase should focus on preparing your body, joints, heart and lungs for a dynamic workout, while the second phase should focus on cooling down your muscles and preparing your body for an active recovery following your workout. In essence, it is most effective to sandwich your strength and conditioning workout routine with two short, but effective, active stretching routines.
Phase One – Warm Up and Dynamic Stretch
If touching your toes and taking deep breaths to start your workout is your idea of warming up and stretching, then you are missing out on an excellent opportunity to set yourself up for a great workout. According to research by The National Strength and Condition Association, passive static stretching can lead to reduced performance when compared to an active, dynamic warm-up alone.
A great workout starts with a great warm-up so the first step to an active warm-up that is going to increase your performance is spending a few minutes on a foam roller. The purpose of the foam roller is provide soft tissue flexibility in preparation for a more fluid and free-moving workout. The few minutes it takes to foam roll will pay dividends for the remainder of your fitness session.
After you’ve established more flexible muscles with the foam roller, the next step is to prepare your body for elevating heart rates and getting down to business. The warm-up should not be easy. It should start easy, but then progress to the point that when you’re finished five minutes later, you’re ready to go full steam ahead into your workout. A dynamic warm-up should include explosive movements such as high knees, skipping and moving lunges. It is important to remember that the purpose of these types of exercises is to prepare your joints and ligaments for the high intensity portion of your workout. Make sure not to push yourself too hard, but instead focus on starting slow and revving up your body for an effective and dynamic workout.
Phase Two – Cool Down and Recovery
After you’ve left all of your effort, sweat and tears on the gym floor during your high intensity strength and conditioning workout, it is now time to take three to five minutes to incorporate some light stretching and cool down techniques to finish off your fitness routine. The purpose of this stretching phase is to loosen up any knots that might build up in your muscle fibers during your workout and prepare your body for proper recovery that will last hours after your workout has ended. It is important to stretch the major muscle groups you exercised during your workout and to focus on any problem spots that you may have. Some simple, but highly effective cool down and recovery stretches include the child’s pose, lower leg lunge stretches and the cat stretch for your back and shoulders.
If stretching is typically an after-thought for you during your workouts, focus on incorporating these ten minutes of pre- and post-workout stretches this winter to prepare your body for optimal performance during and after your workouts. Contact your local Fitness Together studio to learn more about how to look better, feel better and perform better with a total body stretching and fitness routine.
To find the Fitness Together studio nearest you, visit fitnesstogether.com.
Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: December 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 12 - pp 3326-3333.