Stretching is one of the most debated and often overlooked aspects of weightlifting.
Some people consider it a vital part of their routine, while others think it offers no benefits and could even be harmful. Then there are those who simply just forget about it all together.
In today’s article, I want to help clear up some of the myths and give you a better understanding of how stretching can affect your training.
I will explain the benefits of stretching and tell you the best types of stretches, as well as the most opportune times to do them.
This will give you everything you need to make an informed decision on whether or not to include stretches in your own sessions.
Benefits Of Stretching In Weightlifting
The primary benefit of stretching in weightlifting is that it mobilises the muscles, improving blood flow to them and making them more flexible.
The positives of this are twofold.
For starters, it reduces the chance of injury to both the muscle and its surrounding joints. By warming the area up and making it more mobile, you are much less likely to encounter any pulls or tears.
The other result of the increased level of flexibility is that it can also improve performance as well.
By extending your range of motion, you make sure the entire muscle is activated during an exercise.
This gets the maximum number of muscle fibres involved and can lead to great gains in strength, endurance, and explosiveness.
A study was conducted in 2010 on a group of males with an average age of 21. It found that stretching significantly increased both their jump height and drop and squat performance.
Beyond the reasons already listed, nervous system activation, as well as increased heart rate and core temperature, were believed to be responsible for the improved results.
As great as it is to prepare the muscles, stretching has also been shown to be beneficial after a session as well. This is because it has the ability to help remove lactic acid build-up from the muscles.
This will reduce soreness and dramatically speed up recovery time, allowing you to train the same muscles again much sooner than you would otherwise be capable of.
Despite these benefits, the timing and execution of your stretches, as well as which stretches you choose to perform need to be carefully considered.
Getting any of these aspects wrong will not only reduce the benefits you are trying to gain but could even have a negative impact on performance or increase the chance of injury.
Do I Stretch Before Or After Lifting?
Whether you stretch before or after lifting will depend on which types of stretch you are performing and what you are hoping to gain from them.
Dynamic stretches should be performed before a workout, as they warm the muscles up and prepare the body for lifting. These involve using stretches that include movement, to maximise your range of motion.
Static stretches, on the other hand, should be performed after a workout, as they help the muscles to cool down and remove lactic acid that has built up during training.
As the name suggests, these stretches are performed from a stationary position, where you focus on holding the stretch for a set length of time.
Whether you stretch before or after a workout, it is important to focus on the muscles that will be used in that particular session. This helps to ready or repair the muscles you are actually working, ensuring you achieve the maximum possible benefits.
Full body stretching is also a great choice for rest days, as it further reduces soreness and lactic acid build up, ensuring you are ready for your next workout.
Dynamic stretching is the best option for rest days, as it doesn’t pose the same risk when performed cold that static stretching does.
Dynamic Stretching vs. Static Stretching
Dynamic stretches focus on movement and increasing the range of motion both in a joint and throughout a muscle.
Static stretches, meanwhile, are designed to lengthen soft tissues, such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This relieves tension and improves the health and comfort of the area.
Performing Dynamic Stretches
Dynamic stretches are ideal to perform before a workout, as they activate and mobilise the muscles and joints in preparation for what is about to occur.
When performing a dynamic stretch, you must focus on moving the joints in a controlled manner, through their entire range of motion.
Each stretch will feature almost constant motion and should be held for only a very short period of time.
You generally want to perform between 10 and 20 reps of any given stretch, each of which can be performed as part of a dynamic stretching or yoga routine or included in mobility drills.
Performing Static Stretches
Static stretches are best suited to being performed after a workout, as they are great for removing lactic acid, reducing soreness, and improving recovery time.
Not only that, but they can actually be harmful if performed before a workout or when the muscles and joints are cold.
Performing static stretches before a workout or on a rest day can not only impair performance but may also lead to strains and tears.
This is because the muscles will be cold, so are less mobile and more susceptible to injury.
When performing static stretches, you want to do a single repetition of the stretch and hold it for around 30 seconds.
You should feel a moderate stretch in the muscle, to the point that it is challenging but doesn’t cause any pain.
Wrist Stretches For Weightlifting
Wrist stretches are beneficial when performed before any workout.
Not only do you use your wrists for every upper body exercise, but they are also involved in many lower body exercises to hold weights in position, such as with barbell squats or lunges.
Stretching them will help to limit repetitive motion pains and strains, improve motion and strength in the joints, as well as activate the muscles in the forearms.
Dynamic Wrist Stretches
Form fists with your hands and make circular movements with your wrists through a full range of motion. Perform 10 to 20 rotations and then do the same in the opposite direction.
Kneeling Dynamic Wrist Stretch
Position yourself on all fours in a kneeling position. Rotate your forearms so your fingers are pointing towards your knees, with your palms flat on the ground.
Slowly shift your weight backwards, pushing your glutes towards your heels. Continue until you feel a moderate stretch in your wrists, then return to the starting position.
Static Wrist Stretches
Place your hands with palms together in a prayer position in front of you at about chin height.
Slowly lower your hands towards the waist, keeping your palms together and raising your elbows, until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat, this time with the backs of your hands together.
Fully extend one arm out in front of you, with your palm facing down. Use your other hand to gently grip your fingertips and slowly pull them back towards your body, while making sure to keep the arm straight. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat with the other arm.
Fully extend one arm out in front of you, with your palm facing down. Use your other hand to grip your thumb and slowly pull it back towards you while keeping the arm straight, stretching the wrist sideways. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat with the other arm.
Upper Body Stretches For Weightlifting
Upper body stretches should be performed when training any part of your upper body. This includes the arms, back, chest, shoulders, and traps.
Dynamic Upper Body Stretches
Stand upright with your back straight, shoulders back, and arms relaxed at your sides. Extend your arms out in front of you and slowly raise them upwards and backwards, performing a windmill-like motion.
Your goal is to perform full circles but don’t go too far if there is any pain or discomfort. After 5 full rotations, change direction and perform another 5.
Begin in an upright position with a straight back. Lower your chin to your chest and slowly roll your head to the side, bringing your ear towards your shoulder. Continue until you feel a stretch in the opposite side of the neck.
Hold the stretch for around 10 seconds before slowly rolling your head back to the starting position, and then down towards the other shoulder. Perform between 5 and 10 reps to either side.
Cat Cow Stretch
Start by kneeling on all fours, with your hips and knees at 90 degrees and your hands directly beneath your shoulders.
Arch your back to bring your abs closer to the ground and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold the position for around five seconds.
You then want to arch your back in the opposite direction, roll your shoulders forward, and suck in your stomach, trying to pull your belly button as far away from the ground as possible. Hold this position for 5 seconds as well.
Complete this sequence between 10 and 20 times.
Begin by kneeling with the tops of your feet flat on the floor and your toes pointed directly behind you. Place your hands on the ground just in front of you, with the palms flat on the floor.
Slowly begin sitting back on your heels, bringing your buttocks towards the ground. At the same time, lower your chest towards the floor without moving your hands, allowing your arms to stretch straight out in front of you.
At the bottom of the stretch your back and arms should be in as close to a straight line as possible. Hold the position for 30 seconds before slowly easing out and repeating a further 3 times.
Stand upright and relax both your arms and shoulders. Raise your shoulders towards your ears and then roll them backwards in a circular shrugging motion. Then proceed to slowly lower the shoulders, rolling them forwards, back to the starting position, forming a complete circle.
Perform 10 repetitions then change direction and complete another 10.
Position yourself on the floor, facing downwards. Support yourself on your hands and toes, with arms fully extended and hands shoulder width apart. Fully extend your body and lower yourself until your chest is a few inches from the ground, bending only at the arms.
Push back up while squeezing the chest muscles. Perform between 10 and 20 repetitions.
Start by holding a frame or bar in a rack with an overhand grip, just outside of shoulder width.
Slowly walk your feet until you are underneath the bar with it touching your chest, while your body is at a 45-degree angle with your heels on the floor.
Slowly lower yourself away from the bar by extending your arms, while ensuring you keep the muscles in your back contracted.
As soon as you reach full extension, begin pulling yourself back to the starting position. At no point should your feet move. Perform between 10 and 20 repetitions.
These are often referred to as either inverted or Australian rows.
Static Upper Body Stretches
Overhead Triceps Stretch
With a straight back, reach up with one arm and, by bending at the elbow, slowly lower your hand behind your head.
Try to place the palm of your hand flat on your back between your shoulder blades.
Use the other hand to gently push down on your elbow, taking you deeper into the stretch.
Try not to bend your head forward and make sure not to push your hand too far. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
Wall/Door Chest Stretch
Stand in a doorway and raise your arm so the upper arm is parallel to the floor. Bend your elbow at 90 degrees, so your fingers are pointing towards the ceiling, and place your palm flat on the frame of the door.
Begin to rotate your body away from the doorway, keeping your palm and forearm flat against the doorframe, until you feel a stretch in your pectoral. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds then repeat on the other side.
Pec Stretch With Foam Roller
Lie on a foam roller with your arms stretched out in front of you and your fingers pointed towards the ceiling. Slowly lower your arms towards your head until the backs of your hands are flat on, or close to, the ground, creating a stretch in your chest.
Hold the position for 30 seconds, then slowly bend your elbows towards your sides. Continue until they form a ‘W’ shape and hold this stretch for another 30 seconds.
Lie face down on the ground with your toes pointed behind you. Place the palms of your hands flat on the floor, just below your shoulders. Gradually straighten your arms, as if you were performing a push up, but keep your hips and legs flat on the floor.
Raise your head as you stretch and look straight in front of you. Hold the position for 20 seconds, before slowly lowering yourself back into the starting position, then repeat a further 3 times.
Leg Stretches For Weightlifting
Leg stretches for weightlifting should be performed whenever you train parts of the lower body. This means sessions that include exercises for the abductors, adductors, calves, glutes, hamstrings and quads.
Dynamic Leg Stretches
Standing Hip Circles
Stand with feet shoulder width apart and place your hands on your hips. Slowly rotate your body to one side, making a circular motion with your hips.
Complete 3 full rotations then switch directions.
Run on the spot at a moderate speed, while trying to bring the knees as high as possible with each stride.
You can either continue for 30 seconds or until you have completed 20 repetitions with each leg, whichever you prefer.
Keeping your back straight, lunge forward with one leg, lowering yourself until there is a 90-degree bend in both of your knees.
Continue moving forward using this movement by alternating legs as you go. Perform roughly 10 repetitions for each leg or set yourself a target distance to reach.
With your feet planted flat on the floor, slowly squat down and bring your glutes as close to the floor as possible, all the while keeping your head up and back straight.
Hold each squat for a second or two and perform between 10 and 20 reps.
Stand with your feet and legs together and place the palms of your hands flat on the middle of your quads.
Begin making small circular motions with your knees, ensuring you stay within a comfortable range. Perform 10 rotations before changing direction and completing another 10.
Stand with your feet hip width apart and raise one heel so only the toes rest on the ground.
Slowly begin making a circular motion with your heel, keeping your toes in contact with the floor at all times. Complete 10 full circles before switching direction and completing another 10.
You will then repeat the exercise with the other leg.
Static Leg Stretches
Keeping your legs straight, bend at the hips and lean forward. You are trying to reach your toes with your hands but, if this isn’t possible, simply grip your legs as low as you can go. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
If you prefer, you can do this from a seated position, which also adds the option of doing it one leg at a time.
If you choose to do this, make sure to perform the stretch on both legs.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Lay flat on your back, place your left foot over the right quad and bend your right knee.
Grip your right hamstring and slowly pull it back towards your chest. Hold it for 30 seconds before switching sides and repeating with the other leg.
Standing with feet hip width apart, bend the knee on one leg and bring your heel towards your glutes.
Grab the top of your foot with your hand and press it against your buttocks. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds before repeating on the other leg.
You can extend your opposite arm to help keep your balance or use a wall for support if necessary.
Knees To Chest
Lie flat on your back with everything relaxed and slowly bring one knee towards your chest.
Grasp just below the knee with both hands and pull it gently towards you. Hold the position for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
Despite the scepticism, stretching is a crucial part of a fitness routine.
It not only prepares your joints and muscles for exercise and reduces soreness and fatigue, but it also gives you the potential to reach levels you would otherwise be incapable of.
While it is possible to do more harm than good if you don’t know what you are doing, this article should have helped you determine the best stretches for weightlifting and how to incorporate them into your own routine.
All that is left is to master your chosen positions, so you can start reaping the rewards of stretching as quickly as possible.