It seems like more and more videos pop up every day showing careless lifters at the gym completely failing or snapping up their spines when they go for a manly, one rep max.
And maybe you’re worried that could be you next!
In many cases, stretching is considered an easy step to take to prevent lifting injuries, but the problem is… not everyone agrees.
That’s why, if you keep reading, I’m going to share some benefits and negatives to doing a few stretches before your next gym session, and whether it’s the right choice for you.
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The Lowdown on Stretching
Stretching is the act of elongating the muscle fibers and tendons by extending them beyond their normal resting positions.
It helps to improve the elasticity of the muscles and is essential for maintaining your flexibility.
While helpful for anyone when it comes to keeping their body mobile and injury-free, it is especially true for people at an advanced age.
Ensuring you stay flexible and supple as you get older can greatly reduce your chances of joint problems and becoming frail.
There are two main types of stretch people will use:
- Dynamic Stretches: Involve moving back and forth throughout a muscle’s full range of motion while stretching
- Static Stretches: Where you hold the stretch in a stationary position throughout the duration of the movement
Benefits of Stretching Before Exercise
Stretching before physical activity can be beneficial, as it helps to get the muscles mobile.
This is important for reducing the likelihood of injury, as going in cold can cause pulls or tears. These occur as the muscle is stiff and ill-prepared to move against any substantial resistance suddenly.
Imagine how it would feel to go from stationary to 100 miles an hour in an instant, without that gradual build-up of acceleration in between.
I don’t think it’s a stretch, pun intended, to say that would be a great shock to the system, and this is essentially what you are doing when you try to train a cold muscle.
That’s why stretching is so important.
If you need even more convincing, check out this video from the Mayo Clinic below.
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Static Stretches Before Lifting (Good or Bad?)
Of the two types of stretching I mentioned above, static is probably the more common. This is largely due to the fact it is seen as both safer and simpler than dynamic.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right way to go, though.
Studies have shown that while stretching can prepare a muscle for what’s ahead, static stretching can also limit the muscle’s ability to perform to the best of its ability during the actual exercise.
This is because the time the muscle is under tension during these stretches is fairly substantial. That means it is already somewhat tired by the time you begin actually working out.
This could be incredibly detrimental if you are trying to perform a one-rep max or set a new personal best, as you will need absolutely everything you’ve got to achieve it.
Looking even further, you could argue that performing static stretches before a workout is actually bad for you, which many studies are now doing.
When you think about it, putting the muscle at maximum extension while it is still cold is placing it under a great deal of stress. This can potentially lead to the stretches causing injury to the muscle, the very thing you are trying to avoid by doing them.
As previously mentioned, the second type of stretching is referred to as dynamic due to the fact there is movement involved within the stretches.
While some people claim these to be more dangerous than the static variety, it is simply not true if done correctly. In fact, if anything, they are much safer.
The misconception comes as many people have a tendency to jerk in and out of their stretches at speed, almost like they would for some of the regular exercises in their workout.
This can indeed lead to injury, as repeatedly wrenching a muscle to its full extension, often while cold, puts an incredible strain on both it and the connective tissues attached to it, such as tendons and ligaments.
To perform a dynamic stretch effectively, you need to do it in a slow and controlled manner. You want to make sure you ease in and out of each stretch and eliminate any abrupt, jolting movements.
Begin by stretching only part of the way, stopping just after you feel the initial strain kick in. Then, with each additional stretch, gradually increase how far you go, until you reach your limit.
Stretching in this manner is not only safer but also much more effective.
The gradual movement will be warming the muscle, as opposed to just stretching it. This makes it much better prepared for the following workout.
This movement will also slowly be raising your heart rate, making your entire nervous system ready for what’s ahead, as opposed to just the muscle in question.
In addition to achieving the protection against injury we set out for, this type of stretching can even increase the muscle’s performance.
This is because warming and stretching have prepared the fiber throughout the muscle’s full length without fatiguing them.
You can therefore engage 100 percent of the entire, fully-fuelled muscle.
Should You Stretch Before Lifting Weights?
So, going back to the initial question we opened with, I think the best answer is, probably.
I say that as, while we can see the benefits of stretching in the correct manner before a workout, there are people who will still feel limited by them.
Whether it be powerlifters who find it makes them too hypermobile or people who are specifically training a limited range of motion, there is never a one size fits all option when it comes to fitness.
That said, for the majority of people, I would highly suggest at least giving it a try.
As we’ve seen, it can:
- Warm up the muscle
- Fully engage the full range of fibers in a muscle
- Increase flexibility
- Improve performance
- Prevent injury
- Limit the effects of aging on the body
With a list like that, it’s hard not to find something to like about stretching. Just remember, if you’re doing them before lifting weights, make sure they’re dynamic.
And to further protect yourself against injury, it’s a good idea to wear a supportive weightlifting belt during your heavy compound movements. Check out our full list of some of the best belts on the market to get started!
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