It´s interesting to watch the CrossFit class after a workout: Once the stretching part is announced and explained there are always a few people suddenly disappearing into the locker rooms. Understandable, as most of us rather have a hate relationship with stretching.
On the other hand, everybody agrees that having mobility is one main key factor to perform at the highest possible level. Starting a CrossFit class with a good warm-up is an absolute must – and nobody complains about that portion of the daily workout routine.
Yet when it comes to stretching after strength training, suddenly most people have better things to do than take care of their muscles and set the foundation for the next great workout session.
But a proper cool-down after an intense workout can do wonders for your body.
I get it, stretching can feel like a chore, but trust me, it’s worth it. It helps reduce muscle soreness and stiffness and improves your flexibility and range of motion.
Plus, it can also prevent injury in the long run. So, don’t be one of those people who disappear when the stretching part is announced.
Stick around, take care of your muscles, and you’ll feel the benefits in no time.
Let us have a look at static vs dynamic stretching, what the different kinds of stretching can do for you, and finally a few stretching exercises.
Static Stretching and Dynamic Stretching Explained
The difference between a dynamic and a static stretch lies in the time span for the stretch itself. While in a dynamic stretch, you move in and out of the stretch several times, the static stretch sees you holding the stretch for a longer period of time.
Why is stretching so important in the first place? I think we all agree that getting ready for a workout is an absolute must-do. You can´t just jump into action, lift heavy weights, run fast, climb ropes, pull the sled, and do all the other juicy things without a proper warm-up.
The same importance should be granted to the static stretch after a workout. During your workout, you repeatedly force your muscles to contract under load.
According to the natural adaption process, the muscular system will continue to stay in a contracted state also after the workout is done. Combine this continued contracted state with a forced bad posture during a day in the office and you will run into painful issues.
Over time, an individual is bound to experience muscular imbalances, which can intensify discomfort by causing certain muscles to become shortened, thereby putting excessive pressure on the neurological system.
A workout preparation usually includes dynamic stretches which are meant to repeatedly cycle muscles or a group of muscles through their full range of motion.
You will feel the typical stretching sensation when doing dynamic stretches and when reaching the limits of range of motion, but you don´t hold the stretch for an elongated period of time.
It has become common practice to use dynamic stretches before a workout. Several studies have shown that dynamic stretches are very beneficial in preparing your body for explosive movements like jumping or sprinting.
One could argue that there are certain sports that would greatly benefit from performing static stretches together with dynamic stretching before the actual activity – like ballet dancing for example.
As this may be true in that very specific context, we in our CrossFit environment tend to benefit more from using dynamic stretching exclusively before a workout.
Our static stretches are applied after a workout as part of the cool-down phase.
The goal is to release the muscular tension that has been built up during our workout and avoid painful muscle tensions that might occur in the post-workout period (for example at home on the couch or the next day, in combination with sore muscles).
We also want to preserve muscle flexibility with static stretches or maybe even increase the flexibility that we might have lost over the years.
You should regularly perform your static stretching routine as you will greatly enjoy the fruits of your hard work later on! Every athlete who has rather limited flexibility and tried their luck with overhead squats knows exactly what I mean 😉
When to use Static and Dynamic Stretching
As already discussed, we use dynamic stretching in the preparation phase before a workout and static stretching after our workout routine.
So dynamic stretching makes your muscles more supple, prepares them to move through the full range of motion, and also warms the muscular system up.
A static stretching routine is then used after the workout to release the tension from our muscles, maintain their flexibility, and counteract muscle imbalances.
The Benefits of Stretching Before and After a Workout
Dynamic and static stretches do provide a number of beneficial effects that are definitely worth being pointed out.
Benefits of Dynamic Stretches
- Dynamic stretches can help prepare your body for physical activity by increasing blood flow, warming up your muscles, and improving joint mobility. This can enhance your overall performance, power, and speed during exercise or sports. Additionally, studies have shown that dynamic stretching before a sports activity is beneficial for explosive and powerful movements.
- Dynamic stretching can help reduce the risk of injury by gradually increasing the range of motion of your muscles and joints. This can help prevent strains, sprains, and other types of injuries that can occur when your muscles and joints are not adequately warmed up and prepared for physical activity.
- Dynamic stretching can improve your flexibility and range of motion. By regularly practicing dynamic stretches, you can help your muscles become more supple, elastic, and pliable, which can make it easier to move freely and with less discomfort.
- This last point leaves room for discussion. While some athletes absolutely swear that dynamic stretching has helped them reduce muscle soreness, there are no relevant studies proving this point. The idea is that by improving blood flow to your muscles and flushing out waste products that can accumulate during physical activity, you should – in theory – avoid serious muscle soreness. Let us take this with a grain of salt and assume that if it doesn´t hurt, it won´t do any damage.
Benefits of Static Stretches
- Improved flexibility: Static stretching can help improve flexibility and range of motion by elongating muscles and increasing their suppleness. This can improve your ability to move freely and with greater ease.
- Reduced muscle tension: Static stretching can help reduce muscle tension and stiffness by releasing built-up tension in muscles. This can lead to a greater sense of relaxation and can help relieve discomfort and pain caused by tight muscles.
- Improved posture: Static stretching can help improve posture by targeting specific muscles that may be tight or overactive, which can cause imbalances in the body. This can help improve alignment and balance, which can lead to better overall posture.
- Improved mental relaxation: Static stretching can help promote mental relaxation and reduce stress. Holding a stretch for an extended period of time can promote a sense of calmness and mindfulness, which can help reduce stress and anxiety.
How To Stretch
Basically, when performing dynamic stretches you move into a deeper stretch only momentarily and then come back out of it right away. You then repeat this movement pattern 5 to 10 times.
When doing a static stretch, you move into the stretch and hold it for a certain period of time which is usually somewhere between 30 to 60 seconds.
Tips and Tricks
When stretching, it’s important to pay attention to your body and how it feels. Here are a few things you should observe when stretching:
- Discomfort vs. Pain: Stretching can sometimes be uncomfortable, but it should never be painful. If you feel any sharp or intense pain, you should stop immediately and assess what’s causing the pain. Pushing through pain can cause injury, so it’s important to listen to your body and stop if something feels wrong.
- Tension vs. Relaxation: Stretching should create tension in the muscle being stretched, but it should also create a sense of relaxation. If you’re tensing up in other areas of your body, you may be pushing too hard or stretching too aggressively. Try to breathe deeply and focus on relaxing the muscle being stretched.
- Alignment: Pay attention to your body’s alignment when stretching. Improper alignment can cause strain on joints and muscles. Make sure your posture is correct, and your body is positioned correctly for the stretch you’re performing.
- Range of motion: Observe the range of motion of the muscle being stretched. If you feel like you’re not able to stretch as far as you’d like, take your time and try to ease into the stretch gradually. Over time, with regular stretching, you may find that you’re able to increase your range of motion.
- Breathing: Breathing is important when stretching. Try to breathe deeply and evenly, and avoid holding your breath. Holding your breath can increase tension in your body and make it harder to relax into the stretch.
Is Using the Foam Roller Considered Stretching?
No, not really! However, foam rolling has become a crucial part of the post-workout routine as it has lots of other benefits on top of a good stretch.
While static stretches after a workout can help to increase muscle length and flexibility, foam rolling can do even more by targeting and relieving tension in the myofascial layer of your body.
Stretching alone cannot adequately address the myofascial layer, which is a vital connective tissue that protects all your muscles.
Foam rolling is a more effective technique for breaking up tension that has accumulated in this layer. By using a foam roller, you can release the tightness and soreness in your muscles, allowing you to feel more relaxed and less fatigued after a workout.
What is "Loaded Stretching"?
Loaded stretching is a type of static stretching that has gained popularity in recent years. This technique involves using weights or a load to create resistance during stretching exercises.
The added resistance increases the tension in the targeted muscles, resulting in improved strength and flexibility.
The primary objective of loaded stretching is to surpass the body’s regular limits and expand the available range of motion. With the addition of weight or resistance, the stretch is intensified beyond what would be achieved through conventional static stretching, allowing for greater flexibility gains and reducing the risk of injury.
It is crucial to note that loaded stretching is not intended to replace dynamic stretching or warm-up routines. It should be used in addition to these techniques and as part of a post-workout cool-down.
Each stretch should be done for 2-3 minutes, with 3 sets of 10 reps, each rep lasting 4-5 seconds.
In conclusion, loaded stretching can be a valuable tool for those looking to improve their overall fitness and flexibility.
However, as with any new exercise technique, it is recommended to start slowly and consult your coach to ensure proper form and execution.
Dynamic Upper Body
- PVC Pass-Throughs: This is one of the best chest and shoulder stretch exercises.
- Contract your glutes, tuck your tailbone, and engage your core to stabilize your midline. Keep your arms straight and pull the PVC pipe apart as if you were trying to break it. Hold for 10 seconds to activate your lats and upper back without elevating your traps. Pull the bar towards your hips by squeezing your shoulder blades down and back.
- Determine your sticking point by moving your hands to the widest position possible and passing the PVC pipe over your head to your back. If it’s easy to achieve, move your hands closer together until you find the point where you can barely not pass over the top.
- Once you find your sticking point, activate your internal and external rotators. To focus on external rotators, pull the PVC bar apart and back over your head. To focus on internal rotators, push your hands together and press down on the bar until it touches your hips. Keep your arms, neck, torso, and legs straight.
- Move the PVC pipe to your back, hold it at hip-width with your palms facing away, and squeeze your shoulder blades down and back. Hold for 10 seconds to activate your triceps, upper back, and shoulders.
- Do some lift-offs by pulling the PVC pipe away from your back while maintaining a tight midline, and neutral chin, and pulling the PVC pipe apart. Hold for 5 seconds and do a few reps with different grip positions.
- Finally, bring the PVC pipe back to just a slight bit wider than your sticking point and complete the full pass-through actively.
- Plank to Downward Dog: In a push-up position lift your hips toward the ceiling forming an upside-down V shape. Be sure the back is straight and both legs are straight with the heels touching the floor. Both hands should be splayed out and facing outward with both arms straight. Push into the ground so as to open up the armpits. In this position move into a push-up position so your body is parallel to the ground. Keeping your wrists under your shoulders make sure you keep your back flat the entire time and repeat the sequence.
Static Upper Body
- Doorway Chest Stretch: Stand perpendicular to a doorway or door, and stand up straight. Bend your elbow at a 90-degree angle and bring it up to shoulder height, with your hand facing forward. Place your upper arm and elbow against the doorway and lean forward into it, feeling a stretch in your chest.
- Banded Shoulder Stretch: Attach a medium to strong resistance band in a slightly elevated position (slightly higher than your face) to the rack or even pull-up bar. Grip the resistance band with one arm and move back to apply tension on the band with your arm stretched out. Get into a back lunge position – if you are holding the resistance band with your right hand, move your right foot back. The tension of the resistance band should bring a stretching sensation in your lat and your shoulder. If you are very flexible in your shoulder, you can increase the stretch by laying down flat on your stomach while pulling against the resistance band.
- Kneeling Wrist Stretch: Start in a kneeling position, sitting back so that your glutes touch your heels. Stretch out your arms and lean forward onto your hands with your palms down and fingertips pointing towards your knees. Apply gentle pressure by gradually leaning forward onto your hands, experiencing a pleasant stretch in your wrists.
Dynamic Lower Body
- Inch Worm: Try not to stand more than feet hip-width apart. Begin by standing up straight and reaching your arms down towards the floor. Then, start to walk your hands forward until you’re in a position that looks like a plank. Next, take small steps with your feet and move them toward your hands. The movement looks like an inchworm, hence the name.
- Leg Swings: Assume a standing position with correct posture with your feet flat on the ground. Either use a wall or other support for balance or stand unsupported if you can. Place your right hand on the support if needed. Engage your core and swing your left leg forward until it reaches the height of your lower abdomen. As you reach the top of the kick, lower your foot back to the ground, passing your standing leg. Ensure that your upper body movements are minimized and that your hips are kept square to prevent any rotation. Also, keep your legs straight all the time.
- Scorpion Stretch: This stretch targets the hip flexors, inner thighs, lower back, and quads. Assume a prone position on a mat, with your arms extended laterally and your legs fully stretched out behind you. Your body should resemble the letter T. Position your chin on the mat and gaze downward to maintain a neutral spine from your neck to your tailbone. Gently press your palms onto the floor to keep your upper body stable, and avoid moving your upper back, chest, or shoulders during the stretch. Gradually raise your right leg off the ground and flex your knee at approximately a 90-degree angle. Cross your right foot over your left leg and attempt to touch the ground outside your left leg with your right toes. Your chest and shoulders should remain stationary while your hips and lower back rotate. Once you feel a stretch in your right hip flexor, right glute, and lower back, halt the movement, without necessarily touching the ground with your toes.
Static Lower Body
- Couch Stretch: Begin by kneeling on all fours with your feet flat against a wall. Ensure your hips are directly over your knees and your shoulders are above your hands. Engage your core muscles and slightly arch your lower back, maintaining a neutral spine.
- Place one knee at the bottom of the wall so that your shin is perpendicular to the ground. If this position is uncomfortable, place a mat or cushion under your knee. Point your toes to keep your shin as flat against the wall as possible, and ensure your front shin is also upright by adjusting your foot placement.
- Gradually lift your torso into an upright position by pushing down on your front leg and placing your hands on your thigh for support. Remember to extend your hip and not your back. Keep your spine neutral, and adjust the angle of your torso according to your flexibility.
- Calf Stretch: From about one or two feet away, position yourself facing a wall. Stagger your stance by moving one foot forward and placing your toes against a wall just a few inches off the ground. Lean your body forward and place your hands on the wall while maintaining a straight line with your heel, hip, and head.
- Standing Hamstring Stretch: Step your left foot forward and hinge forward from your hips, keeping your back straight. Lower your body down until you feel a stretch in the back of your left leg. You can rest your hands on your upper thighs to support your back. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds before switching to the other side.