One of my favorite things to see in the gym is a huge guy bench pressing 315lbs, yet he is unable to even touch his toes. Why is it, that guys are so obsessed with weights and how much they can lift with the alpha male question being, “how much can you bench?” The better question should be, how healthy are you? Or how about, what is your blood lipid profile. Let’s take a closer look at the inside of the human body and how muscles work (don’t worry, I am not going to bore you with anatomy 101, even though I really want to get into the sliding filament theory, but I won’t.) The muscular system: This system is composed of over 600 muscles, all of which are very elastic, or let me say, they should be. As we begin to exercise, the muscle fibers become larger (hypertrophy) and stronger; if we do not stretch regularly, the elasticity becomes restricted or in laymen’s terms, very inflexible. This is just one reason why we need to begin stretching. As we progress through life, our joints, ligaments, fascia and tendons begin to become restricted from scar tissue build up, as well as wear and tear. Too keep these super important pieces of connective tissue nimble, we need to employ stretching! How much should I stretch? 2-3 times per week for any beginner and never push yourself too hard; you should never feel pain or anything about to snap! First, warm up by doing some aerobic exercise to increase the blood flow to your targeted area. Then try 3-5 stretches while holding each stretch for 15-30 seconds. Helpful pointers: Stretch muscles that you are not exercising that day i.e. if you are working chest and back, then stretch your legs between sets. If you are doing legs, then stretch your upper body between sets; think of it like a super set, but just add in stretching. Why do people fall in love with Yoga and Pilates besides the meditation aspect? Pain that has been present for many years finally dissipates with proper stretching implementation that is incorporated from these classes. Be careful: Avoid stretching the muscles that you are going to train before you exercise. Numerous scientific studies support this, but the best article that I can find that encompasses everything is HERE!. Think of it like this, would you perform a bunch of push-ups immediately before a 1rm bench press? NO, NEVER!!! When you statically contract your muscles and hold them for an extended period of time, you are essentially doing the same exact thing to your muscle fibers; inhibiting force production. Also, if you have any previous injuries, make sure to consult with your physical therapist and get clearance to begin.
Conclusion: I don’t know why, but it seems like today, guys conveniently leave cardio and stretching for the end of the workout, which just means it will be postponed until another day. Now you realize the importance of incorporating stretching into your resistance training routine, so stop being lazy! Think down the road when you are 50, 70 or even 100 years old, how functional will your joints and connective tissue be? Make sure you take proper time to warm the muscles up and slowly progress into the stretch; slight discomfort is ok, but learn your own body before you start pushing it beyond its limits.