Why You Should use Weights to Stretch

We know that stretching has long been a fundamental component of fitness routines. With it you can improve your flexibility overall and can work wonders.

Traditionally, stretching exercises are done using body weight, relying on the natural resistance of one’s muscles and joints.

However, stretching with weight can have many added benefits that stretching alone can’t achieve.

In this article, let’s dive into how stretching with weight can benefit you and why you should incorporate it into your routine.

Why Stretching with Weights is More Effective Than Stretching Alone

Introducing weights into your stretching routine can significantly enhance your flexibility.

I know, the idea of adding weights to a stretch may seem a little out there, but it’s not.

When you stretch with weights, you’re adding an extra layer of resistance.

This resistance helps in intensifying the stretch, allowing your muscles to extend further than they would under normal circumstances.

This method can lead to increased muscle strength, greater flexibility, and a more substantial range of motion.

Additionally, weighted stretching can help in overcoming the natural resistance of your body more effectively than traditional stretching.

How to Incorporate Weights into Your Stretching Routine

Incorporating weights into your stretching routine is relatively straightforward, but it requires careful attention to form and safety.

Start with light weights, and focus on stretches that target major muscle groups.

For example, holding a small dumbbell in your hand during a side stretch can deepen the stretch along your waist and arm.

One common exercise that can easily increase flexibility due to it’s nature is the stiff leg deadlift.

The stiff leg deadlift in general lengthens the hamstrings under load.

Holding that bottom position for a couple of seconds for reps can get you unbelievable flexible hamstrings at a much faster rate.

Recommended Duration for Holding Stretches with Weights

The duration for which you should hold a stretch with weights depends on your fitness level and experience with stretching.

Generally, holding a stretch for 20-30 seconds is beneficial.

However, with added weights, you can do much shorter durations.

In some cases, a few seconds in the lengthen position can be beneficial with a heavy weight like with the stiff leg deadlift.

You can also do lighter weight and hold for about 20-30 seconds, to gauge your body’s response.

As you get more comfortable, you can gradually increase the time.

It’s crucial to listen to your body and avoid overstretching, as this can lead to injuries.

Recommended Frequency for Weighted Stretching

Weighted stretching should be tailored to your individual fitness level and goals.

The frequency of incorporating weighted stretches into your routine depends on several factors including your current fitness level, flexibility goals, and overall workout schedule.

If you’re new to weighted stretching, start with once or twice a week or use it when you are already doing certain exercises like stiff leg deadlift.

This allows your body to adapt to the new form of stretching.

Over time, as you become more comfortable and your flexibility improves, you can gradually increase the frequency.

For Intermediate and Advanced Individuals:

For those who are already active and have a regular stretching routine, incorporating weighted stretches 2-3 times a week can be beneficial.

This frequency is enough to see significant improvements in flexibility and muscle strength without overdoing it.

Example of Exercises to use Weight to Stretch

There are plenty of exercises that you can use weights to stretch.

Some of my favorite exercises to do with weights are the following:

Final Thoughts

Incorporating weights into your stretching routine can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your stretches.

By doing so, you not only improve flexibility and range of motion but also add an element of strength training to your routine.

As always, prioritize form and safety to prevent injuries.

With these tips in mind, weighted stretching can be a valuable addition to your fitness regimen.

How to Properly Stretch to Achieve Flexibility

Stretching is a great component to incorporate into your routine to achieve flexibility.

Often enough though, people don’t stretch properly to achieve flexibility.

They either stretch too long, too short, without enough intensity or simply are not consistent enough.

This article will cover all of that and go into covering how to properly achieve flexibility.

What is Stretching?

Stretching involves lengthening the muscles and tendons to improve muscle elasticity and flexibility.

It’s divided into two primary types: static and dynamic.

Static stretching is holding a stretch without movement, while dynamic stretching involves active movements that stretch the muscles.

If you want to read more about what is stretching and the physiology behind stretching, check out this article.

What is Flexibility?

Flexibility refers to the range of motion around a joint.

It’s essential for general fitness, reduces the risk of injuries, and enhances physical performance.

Flexibility varies from person to person and can be improved through regular stretching.

Flexibility vs. Mobility: Understanding the Difference

Flexibility and mobility are often confused and used interchangeably. 

While flexibility is the ability of a muscle to stretch, mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion.

Both are important for overall movement health but focus on different aspects of the body’s capabilities.

Although mobility is important, we are going to specifically talking about flexibility in this article.

How Stretching Increases Flexibility

Muscle and Tendon Lengthening, and Increased Blood Flow

Regular stretching leads to the lengthening of muscles and tendons, which is essential in increasing the range of motion and flexibility.

This process is accompanied by improved blood circulation to these tissues.

Enhanced blood flow not only brings essential nutrients but also helps in the removal of metabolic waste, aiding in quicker recovery and flexibility enhancement.

Over time, these tissues adapt to their lengthened state, contributing significantly to overall flexibility.

Neurological and Connective Tissue Changes

Stretching consistently results in neurological adaptations where the body becomes more accustomed to stretching, reducing the natural reflex to contract muscles.

This adaptation allows for a greater range of motion. Additionally, connective tissues such as ligaments and fascia become more pliable and elastic with regular stretching.

These changes not only contribute to increased flexibility but also improve proprioception – the body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location, leading to better balance and coordination.

How Long to Hold a Stretch For

Stretching for too long or too short won’t reap you any benefits. So, it’s important to find the right duration to stretch for.

Research suggests holding a stretch for about 30 to 60 seconds is optimal for most individuals.

This timeframe is long enough to allow the muscle to relax and elongate but short enough to avoid triggering any protective mechanisms that cause the muscle to contract in response to overstretching.

How Many Sets Per Body Part

For each body part, aim for at least 2-4 sets per body part. You should be totaling around 2-3 minutes per body part.

This ensures a comprehensive approach to flexibility across various muscle groups.

What Intensity Should I Stretch With

The key to effective stretching lies in finding a balance in intensity.

This means stretching to the point where there is a sensation of a mild, comfortable pull in the muscles, but not to the extent of pain.

Pain during stretching is a clear indicator of overstretching, which can lead to injuries like muscle strains.

The intensity should be just enough to feel the stretch, and feel a bit of  discomfort.

It’s essential to listen to your body and respect its limits, as the threshold for a ‘good’ stretch varies from person to person.

Adjusting Intensity for Safe and Effective Stretching

The intensity of stretching should be adjusted according to individual needs, flexibility levels, and specific health considerations.

Beginners or those with limited flexibility might need gentler stretches, while more flexible individuals can handle slightly more intense stretches.

Proper breathing is crucial; inhaling deeply and exhaling during the stretch can help deepen it without forcing the muscle. Over time, as flexibility improves, the intensity of stretches can be increased progressively and mindfully.

It’s also important to consider that dynamic stretches might have different intensity requirements compared to static stretches.

Ultimately, consistent, personalized stretching at the correct intensity will lead to the best results in enhancing flexibility and overall physical well-being.

How Many Days a Week to Stretch

To achieve and maintain optimal flexibility, it’s generally recommended to incorporate stretching into your routine at least 3 to 4 times per week up to 6 times a week.

Consistency is key; regular stretching ensures continuous improvement in flexibility.

While daily stretching is ideal and can provide the best results, especially for those targeting specific flexibility goals or engaging in regular physical activity, the minimum effective frequency is about three times a week.

This regularity allows the muscles to adapt and maintain their increased flexibility, while also balancing the need for rest and recovery.

Best Time to Stretch

The best time to stretch is post-exercise, when muscles are warm and more pliable.

However, gentle stretching can also be beneficial when done in the morning or as a break during long periods of inactivity.

If you are just stretching, ensure to still do a warm up before stretching.

A Quick Full-Body Stretching Routine (10-15 Minutes)

This routine is designed to target all major muscle groups, providing a comprehensive approach to flexibility.

For each stretch, aim to hold for at least 30 seconds, repeating each stretch for 2 sets.

  1. Neck Stretches:

    • Side Tilt: Gently tilt your head towards one shoulder until a stretch is felt on the opposite side of the neck. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
    • Sets: 2 per side.
  2. Shoulder Stretches:

    • Overhead Arm Reach: Extend one arm overhead, bend at the elbow, and use the opposite hand to gently pull the elbow behind the head. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch arms.
    • Sets: 2 per arm.
  3. Arm and Wrist Stretches:

    • Arm Pull: Extend one arm across the body, using the other hand to pull it closer, stretching the shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch arms.
    • Wrist Flex: Extend your arm forward and gently pull back on your fingers with the opposite hand, stretching the wrist and forearm. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch arms.
    • Sets: 2 per arm/wrist.
  4. Hip and Glute Stretches:

    • Seated Butterfly: Sit with the soles of your feet together and gently press your knees down with your elbows. Lean forward for a deeper stretch. Hold for 30 seconds.
    • Pigeon Stretch:
      • Start in a hands-and-knees position (tabletop).
      • Bring your right knee forward and place it behind your right wrist.
      • Extend your left leg back, keeping your hips square to the floor.
      • Lower your torso down over your right leg, resting on forearms or extending arms forward.
    • Sets: 2.
  5. Leg Stretches:

    • Hamstring Stretch: Sit with one leg extended and the other bent, foot against the inner thigh. Lean forward towards the extended leg. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs.
    • Quad Stretch: Standing, pull one foot towards your buttocks, keeping knees close together. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs.
    • Sets: 2 per leg.
  1. Back Stretches:
    • Cat-Cow Stretch: On your hands and knees, alternate between arching your back upwards (cat) and dipping it down (cow), synchronizing with your breathing. Each movement should be held for about 5 seconds, repeating the cycle for 30 seconds.
    • Child’s Pose: Sit back on your heels with your arms extended forward on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.
    • Sets: 2 for each stretch.

Final Thoughts

Stretching is a vital part of fitness that enhances flexibility, reduces injury risk, and improves overall well-being. 

Stretching optimally to achieve flexibility is important. You can easily overdo it or not be doing enough.

Should You Be Stretching Before Exercising

Stretching before exercising is a very common practice among athletes.

It’s part of the fundamental routine you would probably see.

Stretch (warm-up), work out and stretch again (cooldown).

However, the efficacy of stretching, especially before workouts, has been a topic of debate.

This article delves into the intricacies of stretching, exploring its physiological basis, impact on injury prevention, and potential influence on workout performance.

What is Stretching?

Stretching involves lengthening the muscle-tendon unit (MTU) to a point of tension and then holding it there for a set period.

There are various forms of stretching, including static stretching (SS), where the position is held without movement, and dynamic stretching, which involves active movements that stretch the muscles.

For example, static stretching can be something like holding a hamstring stretch for 30-45 seconds.

Dynamic stretching could be seen as flapping your arms around and twisting your body in different motions.

The Physiology Behind Stretching

Physiologically, stretching affects the muscles and the nervous system.

When muscles are stretched, muscle spindle fibers are activated, sending signals to the spinal cord.

This triggers the stretch reflex, a protective mechanism causing muscle contraction to prevent overstretching and injury.

However, sustained, gentle stretching activates Golgi tendon organs (GTOs), which are located at the muscle-tendon junction and sensitive to tension changes.

When GTOs are activated, they signal the spinal cord to reduce muscle spindle activity, allowing muscles to stretch further and relax.

This process, known as autogenic inhibition, is crucial in increasing flexibility.

Moreover, the nervous system adapts to regular stretching through neuroplasticity, enhancing tolerance and stretching capability over time.

Stretching also induces a relaxation response in the nervous system, reducing bodily stress and tension.

This not only improves flexibility but also contributes to a general state of relaxation and well-being.

It took me time to wrap my head around stretching being related to the nervous system.

Does Stretching Before Exercising Prevent Injury?

So we know how stretching itself works.

Does stretching before exercising though prevent injury?

The relationship between stretching and injury prevention is complex and somewhat inconclusive.

While some studies suggest that certain types of stretching (like dynamic stretching) may reduce musculotendinous injuries, especially in sports requiring explosive movements, others indicate no significant correlation between stretching and injury prevention.

The effectiveness of stretching for injury prevention may also depend on the type of sport and the nature of the activity involved.

Does Stretching Before Exercising Have a Purpose?

So if stretching before exercising doesn’t truly prevent injury, does it serve a purpose? 

One of the benefits of stretching is that it can increase the range of motion. With this, it can help improve your mobility and get a better range of motion during your exercise.

For example, stretching your calves before squatting can help you get into a deeper squat.

How Stretching Could Limit Performance

It’s imperative to note though that even though stretching can increase your range of motion which can lead to a better range of motion in your exercise, it can overall limit your performance.

Research has indicated that prolonged static stretching (>60 seconds per muscle group) could impair performance, such as reducing force production. 

If you prefer mobility over power, stretching is fine. However, if you need the most power and strength for your workout, it may be best to not do static stretching before your exercise.

When to Stretch

The optimal timing for stretching depends on the individual’s goals and the nature of the activity.

Dynamic stretching may be more beneficial as part of a warmup, while static stretching could be more suitable for cooling down or separate flexibility sessions.

The stretching goal should be to overall improve the range of motion. If you are assuming it will prevent injury or help with recovery, then you are going into it for the wrong reasons.

Final Thoughts

Stretching overall should be used to help improve mobility and range of motion overall.

It can in a sense reduce injury because you can perform exercises better, but stretching muscles in and of itself won’t prevent an injury.

It also may not help with recovery too much.

I would suggest dynamic stretching before working out or in between sets and doing static stretching either afterward or on its own.

Should You Get Massages to Aid Recovery?

Recovering from workouts is an essential part of muscular growth and performance.

Massaging / myofascial release is one of the most popular ways of recovery nowadays.

You see athletes do it. People use massage guns all the time to try to help them recover or loosen up.

But could incorporating regular massages or myofascial release truly affect your recovery? If so, should you be incorporating it into your regimen?

What is a Massage / Myofascial Release?

Massage therapy aka myofascial release therapy involves manipulating the body’s soft tissues to relieve stress, improve circulation, and reduce pain.

Myofascial release, a specific type of massage, targets the connective tissue (fascia) that surrounds and supports muscles, aiming to release tension and improve mobility.

Most people think of massage when someone else is using their thumbs to dive into the muscle and massage it.

This isn’t always the case though.

You can use any surface that’s fairly firm and sturdy, dig it into your muscle, and massage it and you are still doing massage therapy.

Effects on Muscles

Massages exert a multifaceted effect on the muscles.

Primarily, they increase blood flow, bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients to muscle tissues while aiding in the removal of waste products, such as lactic acid.

This enhanced circulation can help in the faster recovery of muscles from soreness and fatigue. There are many ways to do this like with blood flow restriction training, but let’s continue.

Moreover, massages help in breaking down adhesions aka knots that form in muscle fibers and tissues as a result of overuse or injury.

These knots can restrict movement and cause pain. By applying pressure and movement, massage therapy can help in realigning these muscle fibers and reducing discomfort.

The role of fascia in this context is crucial.

Fascia is a dense, fibrous network of connective tissue that surrounds and includes your muscles, bones, nerves, and blood vessels.

Under stress or injury, the fascia can become tight and restricted, causing pain and limited mobility.

Myofascial release targets these fascial restrictions.

It involves applying gentle, sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue to eliminate pain and restore motion.

By easing tension in the fascia, myofascial release enhances muscular function and flexibility, thereby contributing to overall muscle health and recovery.

The combination of improved blood flow, reduced adhesions, and eased fascial tension makes massage a powerful tool in muscle recovery and maintenance.

Does Massage Aid in Recovery?

So we know what massaging is. But does massaging actually help with recovery?

Let’s look at what some studies say.

A study conducted by scientists at the Wyss Institute and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences found that massages can help injured muscles heal faster and stronger.

The study used a custom-designed robotic system to apply consistent compressive forces to mice’s leg muscles, leading to a more pronounced reduction in damaged muscle fibers and larger cross-sectional areas of the fibers in treated muscles compared to untreated ones.

This suggests that massage, by exerting mechanical loading, can significantly improve muscle recovery after injury​.

This is a study in mice though. So let’s look at something else.

Another study, on PubMed, reviewed 27 studies focusing on sports massage’s effect on muscle recovery after strenuous exercise.

While the case series provided inconsistent results, with most suggesting that massage does not significantly improve post-exercise function, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) did provide moderate evidence supporting the efficacy of massage therapy in facilitating recovery from repetitive muscular contractions.

So what does this mean?

Well, we need more data and studies done to see if it does truly help.

In my opinion, it does not hurt to do.

We know that increasing blood flow into an area can help with recovery. Massaging does this in general, and I don’t see why it has a negative impact. 

When Should You Massage?

Considering it’s still up in the air on whether massaging is worth it or not for recovery, when should you massage?

Personally, I do self massages anytime something feels a bit too tight or I am suffering through some injury.

This is all anecdotal, so take it for what is.

An example, one time I was working out and got some shooting sciatic pain. 

It wouldn’t go away no matter which way I moved or stretched.

Eventually, I took a lacrosse ball, rolled it on my glutes for about 3-5 minutes and my sciatic pain was gone.

This was most likely my piriformis muscle being a bit too tight and causing pain.

Another example was when I had knee pain during a squat session.

I stopped what I did, rolled out my quadriceps with a lacrosse ball as well, and my knee pain was alleviated.

This was due to my quads being too tight in general causing the knee pain.

Massaging has its place, and I like to use it when I know things are too tight or a muscle is causing some type of joint pain. 

Alternative Massage Tools

There are plenty of massage tools you can choose from besides going to a massage therapist.

My favorites are:

  • Lacrosse Ball
  • Foam Roller
  • Massage gun
  • Barbell
  • Kettlebell

Anything firm and dense will do wonders, even if it hurts. The denser to me, the better.

You can also use your thumb, but it may become a bit exhausting.

Final Thoughts

Massaging is a great tool that can help with many issues. It’s still a question of whether or not it can help with recovery. Although I think it can, I believe you should do it when you feel like it’s needed as I don’t see it having any negative impacts.

You can use plenty of tools to massage yourself instead of going for massage therapy all the time.