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Simple Stretching Tips to Lift Heavier,
Recover Better and Workout Longer

Goals: Flexibility
Bodypart: All

After a heavy leg day, replete with plenty of squats and leg presses, the last thing you want to do is ...well, actually, you don't really want to do anything after a big leg day. But the absolute last thing you want to do is take up more of your time with something as trivial as stretching. Right?

The gym is filled with leagues of ordinary lifters who deny the effectiveness of stretching. There are those who have claimed over the years that stretching prevents injury. Tell that to a guy who's lifted for years without incident and you're likely to get laughed out of the building. But it's true - the research on stretching's ability to prevent injury is shaky at best but the studies continue to mount on its ability to help you perform and recover better. That is, if you do it right.

It can be a struggle to get serious gym rats to stretch after a tough workout, so why bother telling them to stretch before one? Because a lesser-known but valuable activity called dynamic stretching can drastically affect how they perform during a workout. Dynamic stretching, or dynamic movement, is a series of progressive activities, usually 6-8 done consecutively, designed to warm-up working muscles. The rationale is that by raising the blood flow to muscles and joints, you are making them more pliable and prepared for the more strenuous work ahead. Studies indicate that dynamic warm-ups may also lead to better oxygen uptake during exercise. This may lead to increased performance, whether you're pulling heavy deadlifts or simply hitting the stepmill for 20 minutes.

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So what's dynamic? Think about activities that call large amounts of muscle into play such as jumping jacks, shadowboxing, running in place, butt kicks and walking lunges. In general, a good dynamic warm-up should take about five minutes to complete and it should incorporate your entire body, or at least the muscles you will be working that day.

Sample dynamic routine
Run in place: 30 sec.
Jumping jacks: 30 sec.
Shadowbox: 30 sec.
Walking lunges: 20-30 steps
Lateral shuffles: 20 (each direction)
Skips: 20-30 skips

Taking a few minutes to do some static stretching isn't just for show. It helps to improve your recovery and can actually make you stronger in the long run. According to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, subjects who performed two weekly static stretching sessions in addition to three lifting days gained 31 percent more strength in the leg press than those who trained without stretching. For better results, stretch the muscles you've worked immediately after each session, holding each stretch for 20-30 seconds to a point of mild discomfort (not pain). Repeat each stretch 2-5 times.

It should be noted that static stretching prior to working out is not advised at all since stretching a cold muscle is a recipe for injury. Also, studies have shown that static stretching prior to exercise can actually decrease strength.

To summarize: dynamic before, static after. Combining the two will make everything that happens in between all the more effective, giving you a stronger, leaner, more limber build.