We all know that one person at the gym who spends 45 minutes loosening up before a WOD. We also know at least one person who doesn’t warm up… period. Preparing your body for movement is vital. But how exactly should you approach it? More specifically, should you stretch before working out? Let’s take a closer look.
Should You Stretch Before Working Out? Here’s What You Need to Know
This conversation is actually a little more complex than you might think. Do you need to warm up before you work out? Absolutely. Should you stretch before exercising? Yes, sort of, in a certain way.
We’ll explain. Here are a few very important points you need to consider.
How You Stretch (and Warm Up, in General) Should Cater to the Workout You’ve Got Planned
Are you doing the same warmup every day? Stop! Your warmup should reflect your workout.
Look at it like this. If you’re getting ready to do a big squat complex, and you’re spending all your time warming up your shoulders, your priorities might be a little off. Priming your shoulders is always a good idea, sure, but it’s not going to do much to prepare you for squats and help prevent injuries in your knees and hips.
Your warmup and stretching routine might differ every day, which is normal because your workouts probably differ every day. You’re not going to stretch before squatting in the same way you’ll stretch before doing overhead presses. Customize your warmup so that it prepares you to move effectively and safely.
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Being as Flexible as Possible Might Not Be the Best Idea
Some people spend too much time stretching and loosening their muscles and tissues. You might think this is a good thing, and if your workout mostly consists of something like yoga, then it is. However, being too flexible can backfire.
Let’s go back to squatting. If you spend 20 minutes specifically on loosening up your hips, here’s what’s going to happen. At the bottom of your squat, you’re going to be so loose that it’s going to be challenging to maintain tension, which is an important part of squatting. Your bottom position will be compromised, and you’ll have a harder time getting out of the bottom of the squat.
So, looking at it like this, having a little tightness (not immobility — we’ll touch on this in a minute!) can actually work in your favor.
There’s a Big Difference Between Static Stretching and Dynamic Stretching
More than likely, what you’re most used to is static (passive) stretching. This is when you hold a position for anywhere from 15 seconds to a minute. The goal is to loosen those muscles and improve flexibility. We often do static stretches because we think they’ll improve our mobility (which they do, to an extent), and to prevent injury (which they will, to an extent). However, growing research is finding that stretching doesn’t actually make us more flexible. Rather, our tolerance for that stretch increases. Furthermore, static stretching prior to a workout can lead to decreases in strength.
There is likely a better option for you, and that’s dynamic (active) stretching.
Rather than sitting in one position, dynamic stretching involves movement and getting more of the body involved. One example is warming up with a PVC pipe before snatches. Maybe you’ve done pass-throughs before, where you hold the PVC with your snatch grip and sweep the pipe in an arc back and forth over your head. That’s dynamic stretching.
Remember what we said earlier: Your warmup should somewhat resemble your programming. PVC pass-throughs loosen up the shoulders and involve some movement that will prepare you to pick up a barbell. Studies have found that dynamic warmups can improve strength and power, and increase your joints’ range of motion.
Flexibility Versus Mobility
Athletes often use the terms “flexibility” and “mobility” interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing. Flexibility is the ability of your muscles to lengthen, while mobility is the ability of a joint to move through a range of motion. You can be flexible but still struggle with mobility.
And as you know now, while some flexibility is good, it’s more so mobility that’s going to help you fight injury and work harder in the gym. The goal isn’t to be as flexible as possible. It’s to have the range of motion you need to perform movements as safely as possible.
We want to reiterate that flexibility isn’t inherently bad. It just might not be the best focal point for your training and warmups.
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So, What’s the Verdict?
We’ve gotten into the nitty-gritty but have yet to arrive at a conclusion: Should you stretch before working out? Here’s our take:
- Yes! But…
- First, consider what your workout is.
- Unless it’s yoga or something of the like, you should probably go with dynamic stretching over static stretching.
- Make sure that your dynamic stretching targets the muscle groups and even mimics the movements you’ll be doing in your workout.
- The goal isn’t to be a human rubber band. It’s to prepare your body to move effectively and safely.
If you follow these tips, then your entire warmup is not only going to prepare you for the workout ahead, but it might actually feel like a mini-workout all on its own! Warmups should be taken seriously. Don’t skip them or rush through them. This is the time to connect with your body and get it ready for intense training. Use it as a tool, as opposed to looking at it as an inconvenience.
Did you enjoy this blog? Check out our 10 shoulder mobility tips for beginners.