Fitness Friday: Stretching the truth

Cameron Spencer

"If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six sharpening my axe." — Abraham Lincoln

Static stretching vs. dynamic stretching vs. no stretching.

It's an ugly battle out there.

I generally don't do much -- if any -- stretching before my weight resistance training.

Usually when I say that, people recoil in horror. I've never really understood why, either. I've been in the game a long time now and I can assure you that stretching can be just as dangerous as anything you'll do as part of your fitness routine, if you don't know when and where to do it.

If I walk into the gym ice cold, the last thing I want to do is grab a muscle and elongate it.

For one thing, my muscles have been at a state of rest for most of the day, called into service for menial household tasks or a short drive to the health club. If my rotator cuff has been static since rolling out of bed, do I want to welcome it to my fitness routine with a preemptive strike? Twisting and stretching it like a pretzel?

Ouch.

I've trained with guys who walk into the gym and declare, "Gonna do bis and tris today," then grab a five-pound plate off the rack and start doing windmills. Terrific. But what about the muscles you plan to actually burden with iron? Should we not include them?

My warm-up goal is to mimic the stress I plan to inflict on my body.

Before I start any weigh-resistance exercise, I get in a brisk 10 minutes on the treadmill. When I climb off the machine, I've usually gotten my heart rate up enough to have broken a sweat. You can use the elliptical, or Stairmaster, or any other from of cardio, but the key ingredient is heart rate, as you want to get the blood moving.

They call it "warming up" for a reason.

You don't want to gas yourself out, either, which is why I keep it down to just 10 minutes. By improving your circulation, you've forced blood into your muscles, loosening them up and improving flexibility. Essentially, you've put your body on stand-by.

Is it ready for battle? Almost.

Every exercise you do should be preceded with a warm-up set. If I'm starting out with bench presses, then I dramatically reduce the weight, enough to breeze through about a dozen reps. Then I give myself a minute or two of recovery time and start flexing.

Let the jokes begin.

Flexing, or iso-tension, picks up where the cardio left off. Contracting a muscle and holding it for a few seconds further increases the blood flow and brings the everything around it -- including the ligaments and tendons -- into a state of DEFCON 1.

You my friend, are ready to launch.

That doesn't mean you have to stand in front of the mirror like a douchebag, hitting a front-double biceps with a GA-BOOSH! If you're about to work your chest, lie down on the bench and cross your right arm over your left, like you're giving yourself a hug. Squeeze your pecs and hold, then rest for a few seconds and switch arms (left over right).

How do you know when you're ready?

Well, if you do a 10-minute warm up, followed by an initial set with light weight, then hit a handful of muscle contractions, whatever muscle group you've targeted should be warm to the touch. If you want to do bicep curls and your arms feel cool, put that barbell down, your shit ain't ready.

But ... but ... what about stretching?

Yeah, I do stretching, when I'm engaged in an activity that will require my muscles to be twisted and turned in ways that don't jive with my natural movements, like when a grappling buddy asks me to roll with him to help sharpen his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills.

Or, when I get ready for my Saturday yoga class.

But stretching for me is no different than weight resistance training in that my primary goal is to get the blood pumping before I start fucking with my muscles. Those 10 minutes of pre-workout cardio are a critical part of my warm-up regimen and when I do stretch, I start slow and work my way up.

Let's assume you're doing the tried-and-true "touch your toes" stretch. On your first pass, only go halfway, then come back. When you reach again, go three-quarters of the way and return before finally going to the limit. Be careful not to "bounce" and be mindful of what your body is telling you.

Remember too, to exhale on the reach and inhale on the return.

I know a lot of young bucks will gallop into the gym and hang from the pull-up bar as a way to "stretch out" before getting their lift on, and that's great, but if you stay in the game long enough, sooner or later that shit is going to catch up to you.

And the bigger your muscles get, the more they are at risk for injury.

I've had guys tell me one of the biggest obstacles to warming up with cardio is having the energy to walk into the gym and jump on the treadmill. It's not an appealing option for some folks and I understand that, but you don't have to jump on and start sprinting

Start off by walking, then increase your speed and incline every two minutes.

If you're afraid of dumping your load while you get accustomed to it, you can always slam a ViSalus GO on your way to the gym for instant energy. Or, if you historically start off strong but peter out midway through your routine, drop a ViSalus PRO packet into your bottled water ahead of time for prolonged energy.

Both energy supplements come in the ViSalus "Fit Kit," designed for athletic performance (see it here).

There are a lot of different methods for warming up and getting your body ready for battle. This is what works for me. Now, I'm interested to hear what works for you. Got a little something in your repertoire that can help a fitness friend out?

Sharing is caring.

Fitness Friday is sponsored by ViSalus. Opinions expressed are solely of the author. For more information on the ViSalus line of products click here.

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