Stretching to Reduce Injuries and Hasten Recovery

By Anthony Ellis

This is a topic that most weight trainers seem to overlook. Stretching is essential to help you avoid injuries and aid in muscle recovery. It helps to maintain the pliability of your muscles and connective tissue. Without stretching, your range of motion will become so restrictive that any movement outside of your range could result in injury or extreme pain.

Some benefits of stretching include:

bulletReduced muscle soreness
bulletImproved posture
bulletReduced risk of lower back pain
bulletIncrease blood and nutrient flow to tissues and throughout body
bulletImproved muscle coordination

 

Before I work a muscle group, I always lightly stretch that muscle group first. This is not including my warm-up sets. You should never stretch when your muscles are cold. Always warm-up first with some light form of aerobic exercise.

So, if I was working my chest, after my 5 minute warm-up on the lifecycle, I would do some light stretching of my chest and shoulder muscles. This usually takes 2-3 minutes, then onto the actual warm-up for the particular exercise I am performing. After a couple of warm-up sets, I am usually ready to start the heavy work. Once I have performed a few heavy sets, I will continue to stretch during and after I finish that particular exercise.

So, after I finish working my chest, for example, I will finish off with a good, deep (painful!) stretch of that muscle group. Stretching your muscles while they are pumped will gradually help to stretch your connective tissue or muscle fascia. This eventually allow your muscles to grow past their current size. Muscle fascia is like a tight girdle around the muscle fibers, restricting their size. This is why guys who were once overweight find it much easier to gain muscle mass--their connective tissue has already been stretched to allow more growth.

Stretching before your session is necessary to warm-up and loosen your joints, muscles and ligaments, while stretching after your workout helps to aid in recovery. When you stretch the muscles you just worked it will help to remove the lactic acid buildup in those muscles. Stretching helps in the removal waste from the muscles, and supplies them with much needed oxygen and nutrients. This will also help to alleviate some of the muscle soreness that accompanies heavy training.

The technique I use is in two stages:

First I stretch the muscle for about 3-5 seconds, then release. Next, I concentrate on really relaxing that muscle group. I take a deep breath, exhale slowly and start the stretch again.

On this second stretch, I want to go further than the first time. I hold this stretch for as long as I can tolerate the pain (about 20-30 seconds), all the while, continually trying to relax and go deeper and farther. While stretching, remember to breathe and relax more each time you exhale.

Note: Never bounce or do any type of forceful stretching.

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