Stretching is a common practice at gym. It increases your flexibility, the range of motion of muscles, blood flow to the muscles and may possibly reduce muscle soreness. But what about pre-workout stretches? Should you stretch before a workout?
Our muscle fibres have a unique ability to increase in length. A muscle consists of bundles of muscle fibres called fascicles, which are further made up of myofibrils bundled together. Each myofibril is made up of muscle cell consisting of sacromere containing overlapping thick and thin fibres. When a muscle contracts, the overlapping increases, decreasing the length of a sacromere and hence the muscle fibres. While during relaxation, the thick and thin fibres come to their original place. When we stretch, we decrease the overlapping, and increase the muscle length.
Being said all that, picture your muscle as a rubber band. It can expand in length and return to its original length when you release it. Now you warm up this rubber band a little. This time it will stretch beautifully without much resistance. Put the same rubber band in a freezer and it will snap while stretching.
Our muscles are just like an elastic rubber band. Stretching a cold muscle is not a wise decision. It may increase chances of injury, put extra strain and may even result in muscle tear.
However, stretching before a workout is crucial to prevent any possible injury and to improve performance. A study shows that stretching 15 minutes pre-workout can help you avoid injury.
But when I say, stretch, I mean static stretching. The kind of stretch where there is a limited motion and you are basically pulling one muscle for a few seconds (like that in yoga). Restrict this type of stretching for post-workout only.
You can, however, do dynamic stretches before a workout. These are the stretches that involve more range of motion in continuous motion, such as air circles and hip rolls. Incorporate these dynamic stretches with your warmup regime. Since these kind of movements result in rapid muscle contraction and relaxation along with muscle lengthening and joint movements, it will increase the blood flow carrying nutrition and oxygen to your muscles, steadily elevate core body temperature and prepare your body for the intense workout that I am sure you are planning to pull.
Stretching is just as important as the actual workout for the reasons mentioned above. Do not skip the warmup session, stretching and cool down, no matter what. Do them at the right time in a right way and you will see your workouts’ progress.
Note: Be sure to talk to a certified trainer or professional to find a plan that best suits your fitness level.