If you're trying to improve your performance in the gym there is one simple thing you may skipping that would make all the difference - a proper stretch! Most people go to the gym to workout. Raising the heart rate and getting a sweat on is the main goal. A lot of people are also trying to juggle time, with the most important things taking priority. This leaves stretching to fall by the wayside because it doesn't seem as time-productive as a good workout. However, focusing on moving and stretching gently before and after exercise has many benefits, especially on improving your performance.
The main reason we mobilise and stretch is to reduce injury. When we exercise or stretch cold muscles they are far more likely to tear. Before a pre-workout stretch it is important to do a quick warm up, followed by dynamic, moving stretches that mobilise the muscles you will be using in the workout. This helps to make muscles more pliable, preventing tearing. It can also be helpful to practice the movement patterns you will be using in your workout.
If muscles have been contracted a lot during exercise it is important to lengthen them after your workout through maintenance stretches, which should be held for 10-15 seconds. This prevents muscles and joints from straining, especially in problematic areas such as lower backs. A good stretch also helps to reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) which otherwise can last for days! Reduced injury time or DOMS also means more time in the gym. A few minutes before or after each workout could save you days or even weeks out following an injury.
Aside from injury prevention, mobilising and stretching are the best way to increase range of motion (ROM). This can have a massive impact on your exercise ability, especially when it comes to lifting weights. Increasing hip mobility to move deeper into a squat, being able to straighten your arms for that push press or snatch and stretching your hip-flexors so you can move into a lunge or front squat whilst keeping your body upright all make a huge difference to your performance.
Stretching increases body awareness and proprioception, which again helps with your form during exercise and builds muscle memory. Being able to feel the position of your body in space, from your feet through to your head, is critical to maintaining optimum body positions. We don't always have a mirror to tell us what our body is doing!
Spending time focusing on the whole movement and muscles involved and stretching clearly has many benefits, not just to your body but also to your performance. Make the most of this time and you will reap the rewards in your training.
Join us this September for a workshop dedicated to functional mobility and stretching, where we will guide you through key movements to prevent injury and improve your performance so that you get the most out of your training, maybe even increasing your max weights.