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Post-Workout Stretching: You May be Missing an Opportunity to Supercharge Your Strength Gain

Many dedicated fitness fanatics believe the traditional warm-up regimen of stretching is a complete waste of time. As it turns out, they may be right.

According to many strength-training books and websites, including JMAX Fitness, “The main problem with conventional stretching programs is they often work against your body’s physiology rather than with it. If you take a tight, cold muscle and expose it to prolonged standard stretching, you could incur scar tissue and micro-tearing, which could then lead to muscle weakness, inflexibility, and injury.

“Furthermore, many professionals have prescribed stretching before exercise as a form of warm up. This is wrong. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded if you stretch before you lift weights, you could find yourself weaker and “off balanced” in your workouts.

Not something we want when hoisting hundreds of pounds of metal.”

Does this mean that CrossFit athletes should avoid stretching altogether? No.  It means that this activity should occur AFTER the workout. Post-workout stretching has been shown to supercharge results.

Here’s why and how.

Kick-Starting the Recovery Process

CrossFit trainer working out

Many strength training experts, including those who train CrossFit athletes, note that post-workout stretching can help kick-start the recovery process, loosen up the joints and muscles and lead to better flexibility.  This process should be seen as the continuation of the workout.

Nerd Fitness notes that “When you lift a weight your muscles contract. And after the workout the muscles remain contracted for some time. The following restoration of the muscles’ length is what recovery is. Until the muscle has restored its length, it has not recovered. Hence he who does not stretch his muscles slows down the recuperation process and retards his gains. Besides, tension and relaxation are the two sides of the same coin, if the muscle forgets how to lengthen, it will contract more poorly. And that is stagnation of strength.

When you go through a great stretch routine after a heavy weight lifting day, your muscles are already starting to recover and expand, which will allow to you get back to ‘normal’ more quickly than if you didn’t stretch.” Plus, as we age, regaining flexibility becomes more and more difficult.

A Simple Stretching Routine

The type of post-workout stretching routine depends on several factors. These include; your level of fitness, your level of flexibility, how hard you worked out and which muscles were strained. Here is a simple stretching routine that most beginners can benefit from.

A More Advanced Stretching Routine

Combining yoga, stretching, tai-chi, and Pilates the folks at Nerd Fitness have put together a more advanced stretching video. Their suggestion is to stretch as far as possible, hold it for a few seconds without bouncing and then repeat the process.

Anabolic Stretching

Many serious body builders use a post-workout stretching program that uses weights for resistance while stretching. This is called anabolic stretching and it has some controversy surrounding it.

This post-workout stretching exercise uses hyperplasia which is the growth of muscles not through the increase in size of the fibers (hypertrophy) but through the increase in number. According to JMAX Fitness, “Aggressively stretching a fully-pumped muscle is the perfect mechanism for growth. You increase overall muscular tension while also maximizing the cell swelling response for maximal muscle damage.

The article notes, “Anabolic stretching challenges your body to build both flexibility and strength in the positions you need it most. By anabolic stretching in the proper manner, you will be able to build strength into your flexibility. Stretching the sheaths or layers that encapsulate the muscle bundles will elicit another anabolic effect. In protective response to this unstable change, the stretched muscle sheets trigger an increase in protein splitting, muscle cell division, and collagen breakdown and repair. The result is, again, hypertrophy for survival.”

This anabolic stretching program demands precise technique and should only be pursued with proper instruction from a trained strength or CrossFit trainer.

What types of post-workout stretching do you use? Let us know by making a comment below or contacting us here.