I’ve written extensively about post-workout stretching, but not specifically on the importance of pre-workout stretching. Warming up is the key weapon in your anti-injury arsenal, as it maximises joint flexibility and blood flow to the muscles, all of which limits the chance of strain/pain which could put you out of action for some time! It gets you into the groove for the coming workout, massages the heart rate slowly upwards, and even contributes to the process of ‘recovery’ after your session. Click MORE to get one of my favourite warm-up routines, and see these pictures shot at the stunning Jardins Exotiques atop Eze Village…
I think that unconsciously, as humans, we stretch throughout the day. The first thing the body wants to do when awakening in bed is to stretch out properly, enjoy a massive yawn and prepare itself for the day ahead. I think the same goes for training; one needs to prepare the body for the workout ahead. In this day and age, we sit in one position for hours on end, more than ever before. So if you’re sat a desk for 10 hours straight, only breaking for tea and preferably water breaks, some muscles will naturally become tighter and others weaker. For example, the hip flexors will be in a mildly contracted state whilst seated, and after a while the hip flexor can tilt the pelvis forward, causing the spine to round, which leads to pack pain. It’s worth just stretching out your body for just a few minutes everyday – the pelvis, hip flexor, back, neck and shoulders to help your body stay conditioned, ready for another day of hardcore chair-sitting. So after a hard day of sitting the body NEEDS a stretch before a proper training session!
Getting to the gym may feel tough enough, so that all you want to do is ‘get on with it’, jump on a treadmill and dispatch your HIIT sprints or weight training. But I would argue a good 10 or 15 minutes pre stretch is a critical way to prepare your body for the work ahead – get your muscles and your nervous system fired up, get blood circulation going (blood, nutrients and oxygen to your muscles), and help you make the very most of your session.
Avoid Injury: Going in cold significantly increases your chances of sustaining an injury. You’ll want to lubricate your joints to be a well oiled machine, which will help you stay lithe and flexible.
Avoid static stretches: This will only lower you heart rate and body temperature. Static stretches have their place, but I prefer them for the post-workout warm down.
Opt for dynamic stretches instead: Meaning that you’re perpetually moving, holding each stretch for less than 5 seconds and moving about. Jogging on the spot is also encouraged.
In terms of stretches, I like to do big movements which get my whole body ready but which also focus in, more specifically, on the muscle group I’m about to train. Below are a couple I dispatched before my run in South of France. I’d suggest you do them in a circuit-style, 8-12 reps of each.
1) Hip flexors (as below image) – take a large step forwards (imagine your feet are on train tracks) then drop the back knee and keep your upper body firmly upright. You should feel this in the back leg/ hip area. In the same starting position, drop the back knee to the floor to intensify the stretch.
2) Wide splits (as below image) – the inside muscles of your thigh can be pretty tight so please ease into it and only go as far as feels right for you.
3) Standing side stretch (as below image) – if the wide splits are too much placing one leg behind you and one in front or as in this picture bending one leg will help ease you down into the split position.
4) Shoulder Stretch (as below image) – Raise your right arm to shoulder level and place it across you upper body. With the left arm pull it across your chest.
5) Quad stretch (as below image) – Standing tall with your hips straight bend your right knee and grab the front of the shoe with your left arm. In a slow and controlled manner, pull your foot up behind you ensuring your hips don’t tilt backwards.
6) Tricep stretch (as below image) – Start by reaching your right arm over your head and gently push it backwards, with your left hand positioned on the front of your right elbow.
7) Upper back stretch (as below image) – Standing tall extend both hands out in front of you and clasp your hands with thumbs pointing upwards. Round your shoulders and reach forward.