I’ve been waiting patiently for gym members to provide me with the inspiration for a post on stretching and flexibility. I’ve been on the lookout for things like:
- Ballistic stretching (bouncing)
- Painful stretching
- Over stretching (taking muscles and joints well past natural limits)
However, I found something even more alarming when it comes to members’ regular stretching … absolutely nothing.
I grew up during the golden age of fitness, when people like Joe Weider championed the idea of a “fitness tripod” – a sturdy foundation of physical wellbeing consisting of muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness and improved flexibility. Nowadays, people obsess over weight loss, fad diets and supplementation, discarding the fundamentals of total body health.
At a minimum, thorough stretching prior to working out reduces the risk of injury. On my heavy leg days, I get added confidence from a good stretch of my quads and low back. On chest day, some form of a doorway stretch always feels great and helps defend against a rip in the pectorals. I also began regular shoulder stretching years ago after a rotator cuff tear, speeding my recovery and minimizing the risk of future problems.
Furthermore, there is a synergy between muscle tone and flexibility. Contrary to the myth of the musclebound athlete, bodybuilders who work their muscles through a full range of motion enhance their flexibility in areas such as legs and low back; just think about the repeated stretching required by a set of deep squats or hyper extensions. On the flip side, even professional bodybuilders have claimed success lengthening and firming calves and lats through a serious stretching routine.
Just remember: aggressive, reckless stretching is as dangerous as combining heavy weights with sloppy form. Always warm up a cold muscle first with light cardio. And never try to imitate something you’ve seen from an Olympic gymnast … but I guess that’s a story for another post.