Chris Bolt
Published by Chris Bolt
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: February 2, 2021

I shudder every time I see folks walk into the gym and straight over to weight machines or the dumbells to start their sets without a proper warm-up or pre-workout stretches.

It’s the one way to increase your risk of some painful injuries, but it can also severely impact the performance of your muscles.

We’ve even run some tests with clients to show them how much worse their muscles perform when they’re not ready for action.

To help you improve your workout approach, we’ve put together some simple stretching routines.

But first, let me clarify a few basics.

What’s The Difference Between Warm-Ups And Stretching?

woman reaching for a stretch

The main difference between warm-ups and stretching is what the actions do to your muscles.

A warm-up should be designed to gradually raise the temperature and blood flow in your muscles without adding too much strain.

Think of a bit of light running on a treadmill or some time on the elliptical.

Once you have warmed up your muscles, it’s time to stretch them, along with your ligaments, to gain more flexibility.

It’s important that you understand that the two work hand in hand and should never be considered as one or the other.

“Stretching increases your range of motion and flexibility by lengthening soft tissues such as muscles and ligaments. It promotes fluid movement during athletic performance, decreases soreness, and minimizes injury.”

- HSS.edu.

Why Is Stretching Important?

woman doing leg stretches outdoors

So, you now understand that by increasing blood flow and then stretching the muscle tissue, your body is in a more prepared situation to deal with the strain of a workout.

And there are two main reasons this is important.

Firstly, the muscle groups you have fully warmed up and stretched will be less likely to develop tears under the pressure of a workout. Those can be both microtears that contribute to post-workout soreness [1] and more severe ones that lead to injuries.

Secondly, you’ll find that from the very first exercise, you’ll be able to develop much more muscle tension.

And those proper warm-ups will quickly add up to build more strength and endurance.

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Our Full Body Stretching Routine

Here are 5 different areas that will help you gain more flexibility.

1. Leg Stretches

woman doing a hamstring stretch

You need to isolate each of your leg muscles on your leg workout days. And if you’re a runner, then do these every time you head out.

Hamstring Stretch

I generally start my leg stretching with the hamstrings.

It’s a simple routine where you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and then slowly let your body hang down, trying to reach your toes.

It’s a form of static stretching, which means you hold the stretch rather than bounce in and out of it.

You might also notice that it increases your blood flow into your arm muscles to help activate them.

Related: Best Bodyweight Hamstring Exercises

Calf Stretch

For these, you want to stand about 3 feet away from a wall. Take one step forward and rest your hands on the wall.

Your back leg should remain straight, and as you push your hips forward, you’ll feel a stretch in your calf muscles.

Hold this for 30 seconds and switch to the other leg.

Related: Best Calf Exercises

Quad Stretch

woman in a quad stretch position

Here’s another easy stretch to do, but one you should never skip on a leg day.

Stand tall with both feet on the ground.

Lift one foot by bending your knee and then use your hand to pull it up to your butt.

The important thing is to keep your knees together and your torso vertical to maintain the stretch.

Hip Stretch

Many people who sit at desks all day have a limited range of motion in their hip flexors.

To increase your flexibility, get into a high-plank (aka push-up) position. Bring your left foot forward and place it flat on the ground next to and outside of your left hand.

Gently move your body back and forth to increase the stretch in your hips.

Related: Best Adductor Exercises For Hip Strength

2. Arm Stretches

Man doing a biceps stretch

Any upper body workout day will require some stretching of your arms, and the good thing is that it shouldn't take you long.

Biceps Stretch

Stand as close as you can to a wall and stretch out your right arm horizontal to the ground with your palm touching the wall.

Now, rotate your body away from the wall and feel a stretch in your shoulder and biceps. You might also feel this in your chest if you push far enough.

Triceps Stretch

The easiest way to target your triceps muscles is to lift your arm straight up over your head and then bend the elbow, so your hand touches your shoulder.

Using your other hand, gently push your elbow back until you feel the stretching in your triceps.

Forearm Stretch

Many people forget about their forearms, but it’s vital for any workout that involves holding onto heavy free weights.

Hold one arm straight up in front of you with the palm facing up. With the other hand, grab your fingers and slowly pull them down while keeping your arm level and straight.

It doesn't take much to trigger a stretching sensation.

Related: Best Forearm Exercises

3. Back Stretches

woman in a torso rotation stretch position

If you’ve ever pulled a muscle in your back, you’ll know that it can mean the end of training for a couple of weeks.

Here’s what you can do to avoid it.

Torso Rotation

The easiest back stretch you can do is to sit on the ground with your legs straight in front of you.

Bring your right foot up to your knee and place it flat on the ground on the other side of the knee.

Place your left elbow against the knee and twist your body to the right, using your arms to leverage and increase the stretch.

You should also feel this in your thighs and glutes.

Cat Stretches

Get onto all fours with your spine in a neutral position from your head to butt.

Now, lift your head up and arch your spine down while pushing your butt up to exaggerate the arch. You can also pump up your chest with a deep inhale.

Next, lower your head and round your back in the opposite direction while pulling your hips in and squeezing your glutes.

Repeat this to increase natural spine mobility and avoid common back pain issues.

4. Shoulder Stretches

man doing a cross body stretch

Some of the arm stretches will also have targeted your shoulders, but there is one stretch that you should always do to support an increased range of motion in your shoulders.

Cross-Body Stretch

This is probably one of the first stretches any gym class will start with, as it’s so simple.

Stand up tall and then stretch your left arm across your chest and past your right shoulder.

Use your right arm to grab onto the extended one and push it closer to your body. You should immediately experience the stretching in your shoulder.

Child’s Pose

This is a yoga pose that you can use to stretch your upper back and shoulders.

Sit on your knees with the backs of your feet flat on the ground. Bring your chest down so that it rests on your thighs.

Now, extend both arms as far as you can, and use your fingers to try and pull them out further.

Static Vs. Dynamic Stretches

hand stretching

The majority of the above stretches would be classified as static.

This means you get into a certain position and then hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds before releasing it.

Dynamic stretching is different in that it involves movements to gradually increase and decrease the amount of tension [2].

To be honest, I think you could argue all day long whether one type is better than the other.

Personally, I prefer the static ones, but if you want to add movement into your stretching routine, I don’t think it will do any harm.

Are You Going To Take The Time To Stretch?

If you haven’t been dedicating time to a proper warmup and stretching routine, then I suggest you do the following.

Look at your workout notes, especially for the first few sets of exercise from the last couple of times you went to the gym.

Then, the next time you go, get started with a full warmup and stretch and do the same exercises you normally would.

Let us know how much of a difference you see in either your reps or the weight you load up; I bet it’s considerably different.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21735398
  2. https://www.hss.edu/conditions_dynamic-static-stretching.asp

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