Do you slash stretching to save time on your workout? By refusing to acquaint your toes with your fingertips, you’re missing opportunities to improve flexibility and prevent injury.
But there’s another reason you shouldn’t skip your stretch. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that regular stretching actually enhances performance. The study’s participants were split into two groups: Group 1 performed a resistance-training workout 3 times a week; group 2 performed an identical resistance program but also incorporated a stretching regimen twice a week on days with no strength training.
The stretching routine included 15 static stretches for the lower body, like toe touches and calf and quad stretches, holding each move for 15 seconds for a total of 3 reps. All participants experienced strength increases, but the stretching group’s gains surpassed the resistance-only group in every exercise tested. (The stretching group’s 1-rep maximum for the leg press, for example, increased by a whopping 22% more than the resistance-only group’s maximum.)
The study focused on leg exercises, but it’s very likely you can attain strength gains across every muscle group by stretching, says one of the study’s authors, Arnold Nelson, PhD, an associate professor of kinesiology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. That’s great news for individuals who are recovering from injuries or too weak to lift weights. Regular stretching could help develop a base of strength to work toward weight training. And for folks who are already fit, stretching on rest days offers an opportunity to recover while still working toward muscle-building goals.
Tap into all the better-body benefits stretching has to offer with these “double-duty” stretches created by Frank Baptiste, CSCS, and owner of Frankly Fitness in New York City. To improve your flexibility and mobility, and strengthen your total body, perform each of these moves for the prescribed number of reps on your rest day(s). You can also safely use these stretches as a warm-up prior to your regular strength-training workout, says Baptiste. (Search: Best warmups for your workout)
“The first part of this move lengthens the entire posterior chain—all the muscles along the back side of your body—and improves hamstring and calf flexibility,” says Baptiste. Though the move is technically a stretch, when you lift your chest and return to start position, you perform a straight-leg deadlift, which strengthens your glutes and hamstrings. See how to peform the inchworm!
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward, with good posture, glutes tight and your hips tucked under. Keeping your chest high, push your hips back (as if you were being pulled backward by your belt) and let your weight sink into your heels. You should feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings.
- Bend forward from the hips and touch your hands to the floor. (You may need to bend your knees.) Walk your hands forward until you’re in high plank (pushup position) and pause for a breath.
- From here, push your hips back so you end up in downward dog position. Then walk your hands back toward your feet trying to maintain straight legs. Keeping a straight back, slowly return to standing. That’s 1 rep. Perform 5 to 10 reps.
“Also known as the ‘runner’s stretch,’ this hip opener stretches the hip flexors on the front side of the legs,” says Baptiste. Sitting for long hours causes these muscles to become short and tight, inhibiting your glutes—your largest, most powerful hip extensors—from functioning optimally during workouts and everyday life.