Most people know they need to warm up before a workout, but not many stretch as well as they should. This is because they believe stretching and warming up are the same thing, but that is not quite true. Warming up will help get your muscles ready to work and reduce the likelihood of injury while stretching helps to improve flexibility. Stretching can also reduce soreness and increase recovery rate after a tough workout.
Stretching will improve your functional fitness performance as well. It allows you to have full range of motion when using weights. Completely extending muscles allows you to build them to their full potential while inflexibility creates short, underdeveloped muscles.
Why We Stretch
One of the primary reasons coaches teach their students to stretch is to expedite muscle recovery and reduce the likelihood of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). If you ever neglected to stretch after a workout, you may have noticed it was difficult to sit or bend over to pick things up off the floor the next day—that is DOMS. When you exercise, your body produces toxins. By stretching, you help filter the toxins out of your muscles. By assisting with this process, you can reduce the amount of soreness you will feel after a tough workout.
It is important to note that not all stretching is created equal. How and when you stretch matters. For example, individuals should perform dynamic stretches before a workout. These stretches involve movement and help improve range of motion. Static stretching is best after a workout. You hold these stretches for 10-30 seconds to help relax the muscle and improve flexibility. You should avoid static stretching prior to a workout as it can hinder the muscle’s ability to exert its full force.
If you are not reaching your goals, mobility and flexibility limitations may be the reason. If you cannot use your joints’ complete range of motion or your joint stability is weak, you will not be able to reach your full potential. If you are serious about reaching new personal records, you need to stretch before and after your workouts.
Is Your Mobility Holding You Back?
Functional Fitness exercises require a significant level of joint mobility and stability. For example, to perform a snatch, you need good ankle, hip, and shoulder mobility. This allows you to balance the bar, rise up with explosive force, and execute the maneuver with superb technique. Without proper mobility, you may experience:
- Limited performance power.
- Slow progress.
- More difficult workouts. Individuals with limited shoulder mobility, for instance, will have to work harder to perform a press than those who can keep the weight further back. When the weight is forward, the muscle is not at an optimum position and has to try harder to compensate.
Several common mobility limitations hold athletes back from reaching their full potential. These include:
- Tight hips. Limited hip mobility affects squats and lunges.
- Tight shoulders. Without full range of motion in your shoulders, your overhead squat will suffer.
- Tight upper back. This hinders you front squat performance.
Proper stretching can help address these mobility and flexibility issues.
Rest and Recovery
While stretching is vital to muscle recovery, you should not neglect your rest periods either. If you are working out at your max every day, your muscles will never have adequate time to recover. Below are key elements to a successful rest.
- Quality sleep. Your muscles do most of their repairing and recovery while you sleep. Most athletes need a minimum of seven hours of sleep to achieve maximum recovery. When you sleep matters as well. For example, sleep prior to midnight is more restorative than sleep after midnight. You should also sleep without artificial light sources (so no falling asleep watching TV).
- Hydration. Dehydration has several negative side effects. It adds stress to your heart and reduces your body’s efficiency at absorbing nutrients from food. While sports drinks are popular, water is the best way to hydrate. Most sports drinks contain high levels of sugar, and you only need the electrolytes before, during, and after intense exercise. Avoid drinking sports drinks throughout the day and opt for water instead. If you want a flavor burst, try squeezing in a bit of lemon or lime.
- Nutrition. Your body uses what you eat to fuel and repair your muscles. Many people opt for easy pre-packaged meals because they require little effort. However, processed foods will not help your muscles like fresh foods will. The most common pitfall to eating high quality foods is time. If you are running late, it is easier to grab a microwave dinner than it is to prepare a nutritious meal. To combat this, buy healthy grab-and-go snacks and create a meal plan. If you already know what is for dinner, you do not have to scramble to come up with something on the fly.
Working out while neglecting to stretch is risky and counterproductive. Working with a coach can help you learn the most effective methods to reach your physical fitness goals. To learn more about improving your mobility and flexibility, contact us at LoCoFit Leesburg.