We all know it’s important to stretch and warm up when it comes to exercise. But when do we do it? Before? After? During? How much stretching do we do? How long do we warm up? For such an essential part of any exercise program, there sure are a lot of questions surrounding this topic.
I’m going to tell you what works for me. Like I always do. I’ve remained injury free through some very heavy olympic weight training so I like to think my opinion is worth something. The older we get, the more important this topic becomes. Remember we talked about one of the primary reasons we work out? Increased range of motion. Sound familiar? It’s very important to have a full range of motion for your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints.
As soon as I hit the gym floor I begin with a three minute warm up. There are several good ways to warm up but you should always be mindful of the following:
- Get your heart rate up to get the blood flowing through your body
- Make sure to spend adequate time warming up the muscle groups you will be working by simulating the movements you will be doing, with either no weight or really REALLY light weight
- Do a few slow opening movements to open the joint
For example, on leg day:
- I start by jogging on the spot
- I do some bodyweight squats, side to side squats, sumo squats, lunges, jumping jacks, in and outs, etc, to get the muscles working
- I do large hip rotations, lifting my leg, to open up the hips as they will be involved in every movement I make that day
- I finish by doing high intensity jogging, keeping my knees above my hips
Never stretch cold. We’ve all heard that. I honestly don’t know how true it is. Again, sharing what I know works from personal experience. After my three minute warm up, I do light ten second stretches. Nothing intense here as I don’t want to risk injury before I’ve even started and I know for fact my muscles will loosen up as I workout.
- stretch each main muscle group for ten seconds
- stretch each minor muscle group for ten seconds
- always stretch the core as it’s involved in everything
For example, on leg day:
- I start by holding a low squat
- I then will do a straight leg toe pull
- I then do a runner’s hip flexor stretch
- And/or a standing thigh stretch
- I stretch my calves
- I do some ab twists, maybe some russian twists
- I hold a plank
- I do lower back stretches
DURING THE WORKOUT
It’s imperative during weight training to have a warm up set. This is the first set you do of every exercise using roughly 60% of your max weight. This allows you to focus on your form and breathing, getting your technique perfect, as well as training the muscles for what is about to come. Blood will flow to the area, muscles will start to work while at the same time stretch, and it allows you to really focus on your work sets and fail sets.
My first set on every exercise is a warm up set.
POST WORKOUT STRETCHING
For me, this is the key. I’ve just exhausted myself. My muscles are swollen. I look jacked. It’s the perfect time to stretch. I do the exact same thing as my pre-workout stretch except I hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat it once for a total of two reps per stretch. It still amazes me each and every time how good it feels to do a good stretch.
Let me know what works for you. I always enjoy your comments.
A colleague of mine has recently started going to Goodlife on his lunch break. I’ve been talking to him about my experiences over the last year and a half. He commented that the day after his workout he felt really sore. I asked him if he stretched, and he said no, although he knew he should. I told him he “should not” stretch, but that he “must” stretch at the end of a workout, to help avoid feeling sore the next day. We’ll see what happens to him the next time he goes to the gym.
I recall a day that I worked out, and skipped the stretching at the end… I couldn’t walk properly for 2 days afterward. I have never skipped stretching at the end since then.
That’s a great observation. I often take it for granted as it’s so ingrained in me now to be part of my workout that I forget that isn’t nessarily the case for others.
In case I haven’t said it lately, I’m very proud of you Double J. You’re one of my success stories.
Thanks Roc! I think my only measure of success at the moment is that I’m still trying. Haven’t got the shredded six-pack yet, but I’m still working on it!
Healthy Living isn’t a destination, it’s a lifestyle. 😉
There is a fool-proof measurements of success: Are you happy with yourself? The goal here has to be a 100% ‘yes’ – and it has to come from your heart, no ifs, or buts, or whens, or maybes.
A secondary measurement would be “Do I look sexy?”. This is a bit more subjective, but if you yourself can’t see you falling for your own looks, chances are that nobody else would either.
At the same time, while “shredded six-packs” look cool – they are also overrated. As far as I’m concerned, give me a flat stomach with invisible muscle to back it up any day, over showy muscle packs which are nothing but that: show.
Strive to be “Yum!”, and you’ll be good.
A few comments from a casual athlete (let’s ignore the inherent contradiction here for the moment): over the years, I heard lots of advice about stretching, and warm-ups, and cool-downs, and many things more I no longer remember, and from that muddle I tried to distill what worked for me. The two things I realized that were a must for me, were the warm-ups before, and stretching afterwards. And this applied to both training as well as competitions.
The warm-ups for me have two purposes: to lightly the exercise the muscles I am about to use for real (to “prime” them), and to get my heart rate up. In addition, when I am facing either a training session or an endurance event, I also intentionally want to burn off some of my quick-release energy reserves, because I need a proper baseline to base my following training/race performance on. When doing long distance runs, this meant a couple of minutes of light jogging interspersed with sprints before the start; when I was doing martial arts (decades ago), it essentially boiled down to 15 minutes of jogging combined with arm and leg exercises while still jogging. Obviously, when preparing for a sprint event, I only prime my muscles and get my heart rate up, but otherwise keep my energy reserves intact.
Stretching after the exertion turned out to be a real boon, especially now that I am getting older. Stretching the muscles I exerted is rather painful, but helps relaxing them back into their normal resting state. Plus, the time spent on stretching is also time spent on slowing down my metabolism back to normal mode (aka “cool-down”), and also serves as nice mental endpoint for the exercise.
So next time we do a Viking Fitness workout (and boy, I do hope there will be a next time!), don’t be surprised if my preparation is not much more than jogging out and back across the dojo a couple of times. But I will spend more time on stretching afterwards – in hindsight, it’s the one thing I should have known to do better this year.
Druur mentioned light pre-exercise and a stretch after. I fell into this routine, though he explained it better than I could have. The heart rate thing. On the other hand, stretching too much actually made me feel weakened. I used to setup my bench with 2 plates for a quick 10 reps for a warm up, but I’ve gotten lazy over time and just leave the full 225 on now and focus on even sets, good breathing, and push the muscle only so far where I know I feel strong still, but still feel good enough to call the 1st set. This is the only warm up I do, for upper body. If you do an honest set, you’ll be aware the next day just how many muscles you use when doing a flat press. Even your calves feel it. I can’t tell you how safe this could be for you if your core isn’t already strengthened, where your body is always anticipating, and ready, for an ass whipping. The stretching FEELS good and right after and between exercises, and almost like an itch, your muscle craves it. Soreness. I might be doing something wrong, but I’ve never been able to get away from a damn good leg day without being so sore on the 3rd day that sometimes I think it looks like I shit myself. It’s pretty funny, but I know for sure that I stretched everything. I assume the breakdown always hurts, but the growth is there the next session. 1st workout for a muscle is always strength and pressure. 2&3rd is the burn. One that feels good and painful, not of fatigue. I got past the point I felt I had to be brutal with myself to the point of breathless hate. Good luck, my friend. Self destruction will eventually give way to the construction of something new.
The 1st workout being the 3-4 sets with 8-10 reps. The 2nd would be, for example, incline. 3rd would be free motion butterflies off the machine or dumbbells, where both thumbs (hand bars) touch at the center, full extension. That would be my full chest workout. Used to take me a good hour and half.
The issue here isn’t about muscle growth. That’s a byproduct of working out. The issue is about increasing range of motion, making your ligaments and tendons stronger, your muscles more resistant to injury. THAT is what stretching is all about. Be careful not to confuse this.
But to a certain point, muscle actually limits your range of motion. What is your objective? From the pictures of Rok, that you invision and have stated as a goal of some sort, you cannot hope to be limber as that fellow on the headline and also have a bulging mass. People make jokes about not being able to wipe. That is a myth, as a muscular body still has an incredible range of motion. But don’t expect to bend over backwards or do yoga if you really plan on a body-builder type form.
We’re in agreement. My point was merely not to confuse why and when we stretch.