Stretching before or after a workout is a detail some athletes forget, skip or aren’t sure of.
Experts say stretching can increase short term flexibility and range of motion for the workout you will be performing.
Long term flexibility can be increased by employing a stretching routine consistently before and after every workout and holding the stretch for longer then 80 seconds.
Stretching is of particular importance to those who participate in sports which require a large range of Motion (ROM) such as dance, yoga, ballet, hurdle jumping, gymnastics, ice skating and some styles of martial arts.
- Timing is Everything
- Why Stretching is Important for Range of Motion
- Some Stretching Exercises to Get you Loosened Up
- TOP 5 Best Stretching Mats Reviewed 2021
Timing is Everything
It should be mentioned that stretching before a workout is not ideal for all sports, especially sports that require maximizing strength.
Stretching can decrease muscle force in sports that use maximum muscle strength, such as weight lifting and bodybuilding.
Stretching a muscle before using that same muscle to lift a heavyweight can also make the muscle less stable and negatively affect performance.
For these athletes, stretching should take place after the workout.
Stretching the very muscle you just put to the limit has benefits you may not have considered. After intense training, a muscle is pumped and bulging.
While it looks cool, what is actually happening is the muscle is bulging because it has shortened.
If stretching is not performed the muscle will heal at that shorter length and range of motion as well as further muscle development will be compromised. (Resource: web.mit.edu)
So the key is to stretch before a workout for activities that require a high degree of flexibility and a large range of motion.
Stretch after workouts that use a high degree of muscle strength.
Why Stretching is Important for Range of Motion
Flexibility is a measurement of how far a muscle can lengthen. When we work a muscle it becomes shorter and lactic acid buildup occurs due to micro tears in the muscle tissue.
The lactic acid is what you feel when you have sore muscles. When the body goes to work healing those tears it adds mass to the muscle and you experience muscle gain.
If you do not stretch that muscle as it is healing the muscle will also heal in the shortened state and your range of motion and flexibility becomes more limited.
Obviously, those who engage in yoga, dance, martial arts and other sports where flexibility is paramount, the limited range of motion is undesirable.
Stretching is a must for sports and activities that use a wide range of motion.
Some Stretching Exercises to Get you Loosened Up
Stretch 1: Sitting Back Turn
Begin: Sit on the ground with your legs out front.
Bend your left knee and move your left foot over your right. Plant your left hand on the floor, fingers pointing out, supporting your weight.
Bend your right elbow and twist to the left, putting the back of your arm against your left knee. Sit up and inhale.
Exhale as you turn, placing your arm on your leg and looking over your left shoulder. Hold the position as you inhale and exhale 5 times, then slowly return to the middle. Now reverse sides.
Stretch 2: The Runner’s Stretch
Step with your right foot facing forward and lower into a lunge, touching the tips of your fingers to the floor.
Hold for a count of 10.
Then, straighten your right leg. Again, gradually return to the lunging pose. Continue this stretch five times.
Stretch 3: The Bound Angle
Begin: Sit on the floor with your legs out front. Bend your knees bringing your feet in. Let your knees drop toward the floor. Sit up straight.
Bend forward, keeping your back straight and place your hands as far In front of you as is comfortable. Hold the position for a count of 20.
Stretch 4: Side Stretch
Standing with your feet together and arms up overhead, place hands together, locking fingers. With fingers intertwined stretch them as high as you can get them.
Slowly bend to the right, hold for a count of 20. Come back to center and repeat for the other side.
Stretch 5: The Forward Dangle
Begin: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees somewhat bent
Lock fingers behind your back. Inhale deeply and straighten your elbows, opening up your chest.
Exhale and bend forward, keeping your fingers locked and allow your fingers to fall toward your head as far as the comfortably go.
Hold the position for 20 seconds.
Stretch 6: Lunge Curve
Begin: Place your left foot in front of you and move into a lunge position. Lower your right knee to the ground or on to a floor mat.
Place your arms in front of your right leg and lock your thumbs together with your palms facing the ground. Inhale, moving your arms over your head.
Stretch as far back as possible, hold for 20 seconds and switch sides.
TOP 5 Best Stretching Mats Reviewed 2021
HemingWeigh Extra Thick Foam Mat
Coming in at #1 is the HemingWeigh Extra thick foam exercise mat is a favorite of many buyers. This mat features:
- Generous size 23” wide by 70” long
- Carry strap included
- ½” Thick foam
- Non-slip traction
- Comes in several bright colors
The mat is thicker than a yoga mat, making it comfortable for floor exercises and stretching. It is a true ½”. This mat is one of the best mats for the money.
The foam easily bounces back and does not remain compressed after each move. The foam is durable. The reviews were notable due to the lack of people complaining of tears and early wear.
The material holds up to daily use and many said they had no problems after owing the mat for months.
We also liked the thickness commenting on how they are able to do sit ups and crunches where before they were using thinner mats and could not.
The biggest complaint about this mat was some people said it had a bad smell out of the package. Some let it air out or washed it and it was OK, other said the smell lingered for a few weeks.
While initially, the mat has good traction, eventually it became slippery on the floor side and the side facing the athlete.
Reehut 1/2-Inch Extra Thick Stretching Mat
Another popular mat is the Thick High density yoga mat by Reehut. Features include:
- 71” long by 24” wide and ½” thick
- Non slip traction, grooved bottom
- Carry strap included
- 7 Vibrant Colors to choose from
The mat is durable and comes with a strap to carry. The underside is grooved which adds traction. The mat has good traction and is thick and ‘grippy’. Several athletes mentioned how easy it was to perform exercises on their knees.
There were not many complaints about durability and the manufacturer pointed out the mat has a new anti-tearing net design. The mat bounces back after each exercise and quickly recovers its shape.
A chemical or plastic smell for the first few weeks of use. Too thick for Yoga as it is hard to balance. A few folks’s said the lingering odor is difficult to wash off.
Prosource Premium High Density Exercise Mat
Prosource Premium stretching and exercise mat features:
- High density comfort foam
- 71” by 24” surface area
- Non slip bottom surface with ribbed design
- Carrying strap included
This mat is very comfortable when used for stretching and floor exercises. Those with a bad back or knees will appreciate its ‘softness’ as this mat provides a lot of cushion.
The mat is especially useful for exercises where you need to lie on the floor.
The thickness of the mat makes it unsuitable for standing and balancing yoga poses because you will not have good balance.
Spoga Premium Extra Thick Stretching Mat
Another popular yoga mat, Sponga Premium Extra thick mat features:
- 71” by 27” wide
- 7 colors available
- Material is Spoga Memory foam
- Includes carry Strap
- Includes drawstring bag
This mat includes a carry strap and a drawstring bag. Most use the mat for stretching, core work like abs and other floor exercises. Great for protecting knees and tailbones, perfect for sit ups and crunches.
Too thick and spongy to balance on. The mat has more give than other similarly sized mats.
Sivan Health and Fitness Long Comfort Foam Mat
The Sivan health and fitness comfort foam mat has the following features:
- 71” long by 24” wide and ½” thick.
- Specially designed memory foam
- One ribbed surface and one smooth surface
- Carry strap
The mat delivers on its promise of being ‘extra thick’ which is a comfort for those with joint problems or tenderness. Reviewers with bad knees were singing praises for this workout mat saying it has extra padding for hard floors.
Several gym goers said the mat tends to make awkward or embarrassing noises, especially during ab workouts or when the mat gets sweaty.
A few also said it is too thick to be stable for all yoga moves, but is good for stretching and moves done while seated or lying down.
Just like there is no one size fits all recommendation for a stretching routine, the same can be said for choosing a mat to stretch on.
You really need to be aware of what your own personal needs are and what your chosen sport demands.
While stretching before a workout is necessary for some sports like gymnastics, it can have a negative impact on others such as weightlifting.
In that same vein, a mat that is soft enough to provide the cushion needed for stretching and other floor work may not provide the stability needed for intense yoga poses.
How you use the mat matters.