Q: Is stretching after your workout really worthwhile?
A: Here’s a topic that’s sure to make you turn the page faster than you can hit the remote on a Richard Simmons infomercial: stretching. No, it isn’t sexy, and I won’t pretend that it’ll add another 2 inches to your arms. But bear with me, because what you’re about to learn about stretching can make your training efforts pay off, really.
According to Jim Stoppani, PhD: Flexibility is the suppleness of joints, muscle fibers and connective tissue. And it’s this suppleness that allows a greater range of motion about the joints.
But what happens when you lose flexibility, which can happen when you strength-train and don’t take time to stretch? If you’re squatting, for example, lack of whole-body flexibility can cause your heels to come up off the floor, or limit your ability to get your butt down to a thighs-parallel position and cause your lower back to round and hurt. If you’re not completing a full range of motion, do you think you’re getting the full benefit of the exercise? Of course not!
>> Flexibility is important for bodybuilders because it helps ensure a full range of motion is achieved, allowing for optimal muscular development, says amateur bodybuilder Guillermo Escalante, ATC, CSCS, who runs SportsPros Inc., an athletic- and personal-training business in Claremont, California. In a worst-case scenario, lack of flexibility can lead to injuries because of the poor exercise form it fosters. Escalante says that many bodybuilders, from the pro level on down, are less flexible than other athletes because they don’t spend time stretching.
>> The best way to improve and maintain flexibility is to approach it systematically. While Escalante says light stretching may be done before your workout (but after your warm-up), it’s best to fully stretch afterward. After your workout, the muscles are the warmest and the risk of injury is minimal, he explains. And Stoppani offers research that shows that stretching before workouts can decrease strength and power. In addition, Escalante cites evidence that stretching may even be able to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness after a rigorous workout.
>> So while convincing you to spend another 10 minutes in the gym might be a hard sell, one thing’s for sure: Those extra minutes will help you develop the optimal range of motion necessary to execute the best muscle-building exercises. And that’s a key component in accelerating your bodybuilding success.
SMART STRETCHING GUIDELINES
>> Always warm up for 5-10 minutes before you stretch to ensure your muscles and connective tissue are pliable.
>> Move slowly into and out of each position in a controlled manner without bouncing, which can damage connective tissue or contribute to tears in the muscle fibers.
>> Hold the stretched position for at least 20 seconds.
>> Exhale as you move into the stretch—don’t hold your breath—and inhale when you return.
>> If you’ve never stretched before, you may not be able to achieve a full stretch. With time, you’ll improve. Try to stretch every training day or at least three times a week, following a sufficient warm-up or training session.