If you think stretching is just a couple hastily done side bends and toe-touches at the beginning of your workout, think again. Stretching may not help you shed pounds in the same way exercise does, but it does play a role in overall physical fitness because it helps to keep your muscles relaxed and able to handle more intense activity. Making it a regular part of your workout routine can help you get more out of exercising, which in turn, can potentially support a healthy weight management regimen. Here’s what you need to know:
DYNAMIC STRETCHING: PRE-WORKOUT POWER-UP
Good For: Improving range of motion and getting muscles geared up for vigorous physical activity like running and interval training
As the name suggests, this type of stretching involves activity and movement. Dynamic stretching helps boost blood flow and muscle temperature before your workout. Stretches focus on moving your joints and muscles—like rotating your hips or arms in circles, swinging your legs forwards and backwards or doing a few 30-second rounds of jumping jacks. Experts advise performing dynamic stretching routines for 6–12 minutes prior to going into full workout mode. To avoid injury, be sure to do movements in a controlled manner.
ACTIVE STRETCHING: HARDER THAN IT LOOKS
Good For: Strengthening muscles and increasing flexibility
Anyone who has ever done yoga is familiar with this type of stretching. Active stretching requires you to engage your muscles to hold various poses, which helps you get stronger and more limber. From downward dog to twisting lunges, this kind of stretching can be a workout all on its own. Better still, a solid session of active stretching can leave you feeling supple, strong—and positively Zen.
PASSIVE/STATIC STRETCHING: THE CLASSIC COOL-DOWN
Good For: Winding down post-workout and relieving muscle pain
This is the familiar “stretch and hold” practice typically done at the end of a workout. It used to be what most people thought of when they heard “stretching.” It’s an oldie-but-goodie for a reason—holding various stretches for 10–60 seconds while your muscles are still warm can help maintain muscle flexibility and keep you primed for your next workout. To get the most out of static stretches, aim to get deeper into the position with each exhale. Doing so contributes to mindfulness and can help further relax muscles and boost flexibility.
FOAM ROLLING: WORK OUT KINKS—NO MASSEUSE REQUIRED
Good For: Relieving targeted pain, unraveling knots and aiding in recovery
This is a practice that’s been gaining popularity—particularly among those who regularly engage in strength training. Self-myofascial release, also dubbed “self-massage,” helps you target trigger points and knots in your muscles and can relieve pain and help with exercise recovery. Intimidated by foam rollers? You don’t necessarily need one to get the job done—a tennis ball, soup can or your own hands can do the trick, depending on where the pain is. Aim to massage the area for around 30 seconds, or until you feel pressure release.
While stretching provides increased muscle flexibility, if you feel like your knees, elbows or shoulders could use some special attention as you increase your exercise routine – especially if you are hitting the pavement for a jog a couple of times a week or adding weights to your squats and lunges – you may consider taking fish oil or a supplement with glucosamine and chondroitin to support your joint health. Healthy joints can help you keep moving on the road to weight management.