To stretch or not to stretch? That's a stupid question.
Here’s the question: Do I need to stretch if I workout?
The simple answer: Yes.
The complicated answer: Yes and no, but definitely yes.
Let me tell you why in a short story as per usual.
In my 20’s, I went to see a chiropractor 2x/week for about eight years. It wasn’t for anything major, just body maintenance but the dude was giving me a heck of a deal and I can never pass up a good deal.
During those eight years, I trained hard 6-7 times per week, looked as good as I probably ever will, was strong AF and I never suffered an injury. Also, I was working at a restaurant, drinking heavily 4-5 nights a week, single, staying up till the Silver Fox opened at 6a, had zero stress and WAS. IN. MY. 20’S.
One day I asked my chiropractor how much I should stretch for how much I workout. To which he responded, “1 minute of stretching for every 1 minute of weightlifting.” I was expecting, ’30 min/day’ or ’10 minutes before and after lifting’. At the time I was hitting the gym for at least 2 hours/day because what else did I have to do. To this day I have never taken his advice.
I think to be clear, he may have been suggesting that to be the most optimal human person I could possibly be, I would need to stretch 2 hours/day. But to be the best I could be there was gonna have to be bigger changes than adding in stretching no matter how many hours I put in.
Once he moved I lost the deal and stopped getting weekly adjustments. I thought to myself, I’ll try stretching more to make up for it. I never did. Then one day, not too long ago it happened… I hurt my back doing a deadlift… at the one and only CrossFit class I ever took. Here was the workout.
10/9/8/7/6 Barbell Deadlifts
15 wall balls
On my very last deadlift (number 40 for the math wizzes out there) I felt a pop in my low back. To be fair it was my friend’s gym and I was trying to impress him with a 365lb last set but after 60 wall balls, 320 bicycles, 800m of rowing and 400m of running, my body said no mas and it broke. I finished the workout but at what cost??
For weeks, I had pain when I sat down, stood up, or woke up. I couldn’t workout at all and I was quickly falling into a depression. That’s when I learned real, daily pain, the kind of pain that turns people to prescription drugs and Advil just to get through the day and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
That is not a path I’ve ever considered, I’m not saying I’m tougher or stronger than anybody, I’ve been through that serious, unbearable pain when I had my brain surgery but taking pills to kill pain has never been a cure for me. If I have a hangover, I deal with it. I did it to myself. If I hurt my back, I deal with it. My lack of stretching, taking care of my body and ego lifting caused it, I did it to myself.
I found a new chiropractor, starting taking CBD, stretching as much as my body allowed, slowly started working out again and with time, like all wounds, I healed.
Now to our question,
Do I need to stretch if I workout? Yes (but not 1:1 ratio)
The reason I previously said no was due to the fact that full range of motion weight lifting actively stretches the muscles you are working. In a squat, you are stretching/contracting the glutes and hamstrings. When you split squat or Bulgarian, you are stretching/contracting the quads and hip flexors. In the bench press movement, you stretch/contract the chest and triceps. So technically, when you lift weights at MVMT or anywhere else through your full range of motion (ROM), you should be stretching your muscles.
Conversely, when you lift weights the goal is to create tiny tears in the targeted muscle that during repair, fuse together to increase in thickness and number of fibers. That’s why muscular people weigh more. Because they thicc. BUT, (and it’s an important but) to ensure these muscle fibers recover properly and efficiently, they must be stretched to allow for blood flow and growth.
Here are my top 5 reasons for stretching and when you should
Fewer injuries due to body’s ability to handle physical stress and having increased ROM at the joints
Faster recovery time with less muscle soreness due to the flushing of lactic acid that builds up during exercise
Better physique due to the body’s ability to build muscle through a greater ROM
Increased strength and effectiveness due to the body’s ability to achieve these improved ROM’s
Better sleep. Unwinding with 10-15 minutes of stretching before bed gets your body to relax and makes sleep more effective.
BONUS: It just feels gooooooooood. Due to the fact that your body enjoys it, needs it and wants to be bendy. We we’re meant to be seated all day.
Quick test: Think about how much of your life you spend in a seated position. Eating. Driving. Working. Traveling. Pooping. Movies. Netflixing. Hair Cuts. Drinking at Maverick's. In those Tommy Bahama chairs at the beach. Side sleeping?
Now think about what that is doing to your hip flexors. No wonder they’re short and tight.
When to stretch.
Now, is always as good a time as any. Why are you not stretching as you're reading this... If you’ve been sitting for work for hours. If you’ve been driving or on a flight. If you’ve been lounging on the couch, bored out-of-your-mind at your in-laws, just get up at stretch. It’ll ease the tension, or increase it, but you’ll feel better after.
Before workouts, dynamic stretching is of utmost importance. Dynamic stretching consists of any active stretch such as hip flexors from a high plank, downward/upward facing dog, body weight squats, lunges, Superman’s, jumping jacks, jogging, etc. Muscle activation and moving the body parts through a full ROM is key.
After workouts, static stretching seems to be more beneficial as your muscles are warm and your body is naturally more flexible. This is when you want to sit and hold stretches for 30-45 seconds. Five to ten minutes of static stretching post workout has been shown to help my top 4 reasons for stretching.
If you need help just ask any trainer at MVMT. We all have extensive knowledge of the body and are probably smarter than you when it comes to fitness. Andrea has a degree in exercise physiology and Brad is a yoga instructor. And you thought I just hired pretty faces.
Here’s the real kicker and it may come as a surprise, but all you have to do is stretch and it will help. You don’t have to do the perfect stretch. You don’t even have to be flexible. All you need to do is stretch with intention. Sure there are stretches that can help you better than others but there probably isn’t a stretch that will horribly injure you.
Twist yourself up like a pretzel, try to put your foot behind your head, just play around with what feels good and what your body likes. If you can only touch your knees, do it, then see if you can get to your shins after a month. See what works and what doesn’t and go from there. If you’re tight somewhere and you hate talking to people, YouTube probably has a video…
Don't wait till you have a reason. Just like how we exercise so we'll never need to be on prescription drugs, stretch like your body depends on it and you'll never NEED to stretch. You'll want to :)