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Stretching for Strength Training

Oct 26 2020
7 min read
close-up of woman doing a standing forward fold with her palms flat on the ground

Doing a circuit on the weight machines at the gym? Fitting in some bodyweight strength moves at home?

Heading into a class that requires using dumbbells or a body bar? Whatever your strength training routine (even if it lasts just 20 minutes), it’s essential to be smart about helping your body prepare for and recover from the workout. Warming up will help you perform better and prevent injury, and stretching properly afterwards may reduce stiffness – and it only takes an extra five to 10 minutes.

Below are recommendations for pre- and post-strength training moves. If a certain area of your body seems to need extra attention in this regard (that tight back you owe to your desk job, perhaps), you may find it helpful to seek out the advice of a fitness trainer.

Strength Training Warm-Up Movements

An effective strength training warm-up should include a combination of light cardio activity and dynamic exercises (these move your joints through a full range of motion, improving your muscular performance).

Together, these activities stimulate your heart and lungs, warm your muscles and increase fluid to your joints. With the resulting increase in blood flow, more oxygen travels to your muscles, raising your metabolic rate for a more efficient caloric burn. Try walking, jogging or riding a stationary bike at a slow-to-moderate pace for five minutes. Other aerobic options include jumping jacks and jumping rope. Then, spend a few minutes performing some of these moves:

  • Arm Swings: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your back straight and your arms down by your sides. Then, in one fluid movement, swing both arms upward toward the ceiling, back down and behind you. Repeat this movement 10 to 15 times. Next, raise your arms to the side so they’re parallel to the floor and swing them forward, across your body and back out to the side. Alternate which arm crosses over the top. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

  • Half Sun Salutation: This is a short vinyasa, or series of movements coordinated with breath. Start out standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana): Position your arms by your sides and press all four corners of your feet (the pad of the big toe, the pad of the little toe and both sides of your heel) evenly into the ground. Inhale and lift your arms out to the side and over your head, reaching your upper body toward the sky as your lower body continues to root into the earth. Then exhale and Swan Dive forward, bending at the hips and bringing your upper body toward your feet into Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Next, inhale, slightly raise your upper body to a flat back and then exhale into forward bend. Finally, inhale and reverse the Swan Dive, coming all the way up with your arms over your head. Exhale and return to Tadasana. Repeat this sequence three times.

  • Push-Ups: Kneeling on a mat or rug, bring your hands out in front of you, a little wider than shoulder-width. Tuck your toes underneath you and press back into your heels until your whole body is lifted off the floor. Keep your abdominals engaged to avoid a sagging back. Slowly bend your elbows, lowering your chest between your hands, and then press down to rise back up again. Repeat up to 15 times. To make this exercise easier, drop your knees to the floor, keeping your feet in the air.

  • Squats: Start with your feet a little wider than hip-distance apart, making sure both feet are parallel and your knees are pointing forward. Place your hands on your hips. Bend your knees and sink your way back into your hips and heels so you feel your weight in the heels of your feet. Press down into the whole foot to rise. Perform 15 to 20 repetitions.

Strength Training Cool-Down Stretches

Now is the time to allow your heart rate and blood pressure to return to normal with some longer, static stretches, which are ideal when your body is warm and most flexible post-workout. Try a few of the following movements:

  • Forward Fold: Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and bend your knees slightly as you hinge at the waist, slowly reaching your fingertips toward the floor. Hold here for 20 to 30 seconds, pressing your palms to the floor, if you can, and then slowly rising, rolling each vertebra in your spine back up to your starting position, your head arriving last. Repeat several times.

  • Hamstring Stretch: Lie flat on your back and lift your legs so they’re perpendicular to the floor. Slowly straighten both legs, flexing your feet and reaching your hands toward your toes. For a deeper stretch, lay a towel or canvas strap across your flexed feet and pull the ends down gently. Breathe and hold for 60 seconds or more.

  • Overhead Arm Stretch: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your shoulders relaxed. Extend your right arm to the ceiling, bend your elbow and place your right hand in the middle of your shoulder blades with your palm against your body. Place your left hand on your right arm, just above the elbow and apply light pressure to deepen the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

  • Side Reach: Stand with your legs hip-width apart with your arms at your sides. Then slowly reach your right arm overhead and tilt your body to the left until you feel the stretch along your right side. As you tilt, slide your left hand down alongside your left leg toward your left knee. Hold here for 30 seconds before rising back up to your starting position, lowering your right arm last. Switch sides.

  • Spinal Twist: Lie flat on your back with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms out to your sides so you are in a T-formation, palms facing the floor. Let your bent knees fall to the right so your hips are stacked. Try to keep both shoulder blades on the floor. To deepen the stretch, place your right hand on top of your left knee and press down gently. Hold here for 60 seconds or more. Return your knees to center and place your feet back on the floor. Repeat on the other side.