Pre- & Post-Exercise Stretching, Part 3: Programming

In Part 1, we covered the benefits of a well-rounded stretching program in conjunction with a balanced exercise program. In Part 2, we covered the various techniques and their function related to flexibility. We’ve finally arrived at Part 3, where we’ll tie it all together. Here’s how to get the most out of your workout without spending 25 minutes warming up and another 20 cooling down.

First off, let’s cover some general rules before getting into individualization. There are some broad strokes strategies that hold crossover value for anyone involved in “serious” training or recreational exercise that will help reduce the likelihood of injury and improve performance.

foam20rolling20butt

Stretching is an important part of the warm-up, especially if you’re feeling “tight”. Whether you’re prepping for a maximal lifting day or a light jog, you’re going to want to start with some self-myofascial release. Whether you’re using a foam/stick roller, a tennis ball, or whatever, it’s important to make sure you loosen up the muscles associated with your impending workout. They’re the ones that are going to need the majority of the blood supply, nutrient delivery, and contractile function. Foam rolling should only take a couple minutes if you’re healthy and injury free. There’s no need to do excess rolling on areas of the body that don’t need your immediate attention.

an-example-of-a-static-stretch-for-the-hip-flexors

Static stretching has come under fire lately for its association with a decrease in performance during training. The argument is that a “lengthened” and relaxed muscle belly won’t have the same contractile capabilities, i.e. it won’t produce the same amount of force or power. The argument has merit. Stiffer more rigid muscles are capable of producing a greater amount of force than relaxed ones. However, we’re merely preparing for the workout with some static stretching, not jumping right into a set immediately after the stretch. Following a quick static stretch with a dynamic warm-up helps the muscle regain some of its rigidity while retaining mobility. To make sure that the warm-up doesn’t drag on like a Costner movie, focus on stretching the muscles and joints that will be the prime movers during your workout. If you’re going to be squatting, focus on stretches that will improve hip and ankle mobility before moving onto your dynamic warm-up.

greatist-stretching-twist

In Part 2, we mentioned ballistic stretching and dynamic warm-ups as separate types of stretches. In reality though, a dynamic warm-up is a series of a variety of stretches building from slow, deliberate, exaggerated movements and progressing to faster, more ballistic warm-up exercises to prepare the tissues for heavy activity. Spending 5 minutes on movement patterns that are associated with your training plan will go a long way towards increasing safe rigidity of the muscles used while further increasing blood flow to the important tissues.

So… (SMR 2 min) + (static stretch 3-5 min) + (dynamic warm-up 5-7 min) = <15 min!

Got it? If you still think you don’t have time to warm-up prior to your workout, but have been wondering why you have some nagging injuries or aren’t making appreciable gains, you haven’t wrapped your head around the commitment it takes to reach your goals. if you don’t have any goals in particular, that’s OK. Just remember, you’re exercising to feel better and be healthier… those are goals. Broad goals, but still goals.Even minor injuries can sideline you and derail your momentum, making it more difficult to maintain a routine and by extension, your health.

So how do you individualize it? While a true in-depth analysis could take volumes of books, you can use a basic approach to find what works for you. Determine what your training plan for the day is and use your warm-up time to prepare the muscles and joints associated with those exercises or activities. To start with a simple example, we’ll use a lower body strength training workout.

improve-your-squat-opener

In order to execute flawless squats, lunges, deadlifts, etc, your body requires optimal hip, knee, and ankle mobility… so we’re going to want to concentrate on the tissues associated with these joints and movement patterns.

Example:
Foam Rolling: glutes, hamstrings, IT band, adductors, calfs, quads, lumbar (stick roller)

Static stretching: same as above but focusing on the areas that still feel “tight” after SMR.

Dynamic Warm-Up: Ankle mobility drill (if tight), knee cradles, ankle grab w/ overhead  reach, spiderman crawls, toy soldiers, light jog, skips, high knees.

 

Again, the whole warm-up shouldn’t take longer than 10-15 minutes. You should feel “warm”, appropriately “loose”, and your heart rate should be slightly elevated.

Post-workout, you can follow the same protocol as with the warm-up, just remove the dynamic warm-up series from the cooldown. Keep in mind, working out is applying stress to the body to force it to adapt. Then applying greater stress once it does adapt in order to keep improving. Overall you’re dedicating about 15-20 minutes each workout to taking care of your body after applying this ever-increasing stress.It’s such a small time commitment, and your body will thank you for it.

 

 

 

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