How & Why You Should Stretch Before Weight Training

Stretching before strength training is often overlooked when it comes to weight lifting, but properly warming up your body with the right stretches is a great way to get more out of your workout. 

In fact, stretching correctly before training could actually increase strength and improve recovery between sets. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that after a 10-week stretching program, participant’s strength markedly increased. 

However, not all pre-workout stretching is the same, especially when it comes to stretching before a weight training workout. One of the best ways to get your body ready to lift weights is warm-up through dynamic stretching. Find out why using dynamic stretches is one of the best ways to prepare for strength training below! 

What Is Dynamic Stretching? 

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The key to properly warming up before strength training workout is to stretch your muscles, but don’t hold the stretch too long. Remember: static stretching during a warm-up can actually hinder your performance. Instead, do dynamic stretching, which involves continuously moving through a range of motion. Around 15 years ago, dynamic warm-ups got popular in the sports world as an effective way for athletes to prep for events. Today, dynamic warm-ups are standard for everyone from elite athletes to machine-only newbies.

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The increase of body heat and blood flow from doing dynamic stretches actually loosens muscles and tendons. This can improve your overall power and strength performance once you start your workout. Static stretching actually cools necessary muscle groups and it can weaken muscles before you start trying to lift heavyweights. 

Tips for Stretching and Weight Training

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One thing to be mindful of when doing dynamic stretches before weight training exercises is your current level of injury or likelihood of potential injury. If you’re not properly stretching an injured muscle or pushing too hard, it could hinder recovery and gains. If you feel like something is off, consult with a sports medicine specialist on what stretching is necessary for proper recovery. You don’t want to overstretch a muscle — or worse — stretch the wrong ones.

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If you want a really well-rounded warm-up you can also do a short cardiovascular routine before your dynamic stretches. This could be five to 10 minutes on the stationary bike or elliptical machine. This raises your core temperature and reduces the risk of injury when performing dynamic stretches.

7 Best Stretches For Strength Training 

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Hip Flexors Stretch 

Why: Tight hip flexors can make it harder for your glutes to activate – since they’re opposing muscle groups when one is really tight the other becomes lengthened. When a muscle is more lengthened than it should be, it takes away some of its ability to contract. When your glutes are in this compromised position, it can cause other muscles to do more work than they should, making your workouts less efficient and sometimes, increasing your risk of injury.

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How: While lying on your back cross your left foot over your right quad, and bend your right knee. Hold the back of your right leg and gently pull it toward your chest. When you feel a comfortable stretch, hold there. Switch sides and repeat.

Tip: Make sure to keep your neck relaxed and your lower back flat against the mat throughout this movement.

Standing Hip Circles 

Why:  Hip circles not only strengthen the core, they also mobilize and lubricate your spine and hip joints and stretch and lengthen back and pelvic muscles that tend to be stiff and tight.

How: Stand on one leg, holding on to a countertop or wall for support. Gently swing your other leg in small circles out to the side. Switch legs. 

Tip: Start small then grow the movement bigger as your body gets more warmed up. 

Deep Squat 

Why: The Deep Squat Hold is one of the best ways to maintain and optimize deep hip flexion and external rotation while deloading force from the spine and pelvis.

How: Stand with your feet just outside of shoulder-width apart and squat low with your heels flat on the ground. Once your heels start to come up, stop. 

Tip: Throughout the movement, try to keep your chest up. Then use your elbows to gently push your knees apart to open the groin and hips.

Arm Circles 

Why: This dynamic stretch gets your blood moving and can help to build muscle tone in your shoulders, triceps, and biceps.

How: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and extend your arms parallel to the floor. Circle your arms forward using small controlled motions, gradually making the circles bigger until you feel a stretch in your triceps.

Tip: Stay in control of your arms and try not to use momentum when you are moving your arms to avoid shoulder or neck injury.

Cat / Cow Back Stretch 

Why: Cat / Cow Pose strengthens and improves flexibility of the spine through the utilization of the reciprocal relationship between the primary and secondary curves.

How: On your hands and knees, slowly alternate between arching and rounding your back so that all three sections of your spine – lumbar (lower), thoracic (middle) and cervical (upper) – extend together and then flex together. 

Tip: Don’t hurry through this movement, do this warm-up slowly and gently, and don’t force it. One cycle will take three to four seconds.

Lunge Stretch 

Why: One of the hip flexors is the psoas muscle. You have one on each side of your body, each working to lift your thigh to your torso. The standing lunge stretch helps to lengthen these muscles and provide better flexibility and range of motion.

How: Stand in a split stance with your right foot front forward and your left foot straight back. Bend your right knee so that it is at about a 90-degree angle. Press down with your hands and drive the hips forward until you feel a stretch from the front of your hip, groin, and thigh on your left side. Hold the stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds. Release and repeat on the other leg.

Tip: Keep your shoulders relaxed, your hips even, your chest open, and your gaze straight ahead.

Walking Hamstring Stretch 

Why: High kicks help warm up the hamstrings and improve range of motion.

How: Standing tall extend your arms straight out. Step your right foot forward swinging your leg up, trying to kick your hand. Bring your right foot down and repeat the move with your left foot. Alternate your feet for 30 seconds. This move can be done standing in one spot or walking across the room.

Tip: Stay in control when you kick reaches its peak height and be mindful not to overextend from the knee. Try flexing at the ankle to protect your knee joint.

The Importance of Stretching and Weight Training

Making sure you are properly warmed up before starting in a weight lifting session is such an important step to avoid injury and get more out of your workout. What has been your experience with dynamic stretching? Is there a stretch that we missed? Let us know what your favorite warm-up is down in the comments!

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Lesley George

Lesley is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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