The One Thing You Should Do Before Your Workouts But Probably Forget About

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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One habit that is very good for your workouts but isn't practiced very well? Stretching. I'm completely aware that stretching is so beneficial for flexibility and mobility and helps with recovery, but I often de-prioritize it. Post-workouts, I'm a sweaty, exhausted mess, so I might do a few stretches for a couple of seconds, but often, you can find me lying down on the floor of my apartment trying to catch my breath. I know. I'm trying to be better about it and have been adding a five-minute stretching routine to most of my workouts.

"Prioritizing stretching is important for all goals—even folks who are looking to increase athletic performance and strength can benefit from stretching," explains Felicia Csolak, a trainer at Equinox. "Most athletes are mobile, strong, and able to control their bodies throughout the entire range of motion they operate in. Avoiding stretching, which can reduce ROM (range of motion), may lead to injury and prevent an athlete from reaching their full potential."

So yes, that's even more reason for me to keep at it with my new post-workout stretching habit. But I also realized something recently that made me rethink my routine even more. Stretching before a workout is equally as important. It helps you get ready for the workout, which in turn could make it more effective. "Stretching before a workout primes and protects the body for the work ahead," says Dani Coleman, lead trainer at P.volve Los Angeles. "It allows the body to be flexible and for that flexibility to be used for the joints to maintain a range of motion. When your muscles are tight, it prevents them from extending to their fullest range, contributing to things like injuries and strains."

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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But before you start doing the same post-workout stretches before you start exercising, you should keep in mind that all stretching is not the same. It's the biggest misconception, Coleman says. "There are a few ways to stretch: dynamically, statically, passively, etc.," she explains. "There have been several studies that have shown that dynamic stretching pre-workout is more effective for the muscles than static stretching. However, static stretching at the end of the workout is great to help the muscles recover and the body to rejuvenate."

And when it comes to how much time you should dedicate to stretching before your workout, ultimately, it depends on your body's needs, but generally, it shouldn't take too much time. "Five to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching prior to working out is best," says Dani Schenone RYT, ACSM-CPT, a holistic wellness specialist at Mindbody. "Think of this as a warm-up for both the muscles and the heart. In general, for flexibility maintenance and care for the body, a minimum of two to three times per week of stretching is recommended. However, daily stretching is most effective, so that is my professional recommendation!"

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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As for whether you have to stretch before all workouts, the answer varies, but the experts I spoke to say it's beneficial. "Some professionals discourage stretching before workouts like strength training or running, as they think it impedes your ability to work at your peak capacity," Coleman says. "However, for me, I like to see each client's individual needs in front of me and the workout planned and decide from there. In general, I think stretching needs to be a part of your overall routine at some point. For instance, if you've been sitting at your desk all day, throw some upper-body stretches in to open up your chest and engage your back muscles. It's important the body has both the ability to strengthen and stretch itself to remain balanced."

Csolak adds that intense workouts (think sprinting, weightlifting, etc.) require less stretching than something that's more mobility-driven (think yoga). And you'll want to avoid bouncing or ballistic stretching, full stop. "Popular in the '80s and '90s gym classes, we now know these types of stretches should be avoided due to putting too much tension too quickly on the ligaments, tendons, and muscles themselves," she adds.

If you're ready to add stretches to your pre-workout routine, take a look at some ideas below.

1. Knees to Chest

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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Schenone says this stretches the hips, strengthens the thighs, stretches the posterior-side body, and increases heart rate. It targets the glutes, hamstrings, calves, ankles, abdominals, hips, and low-back muscles—that's a lot!

Directions: From standing, balance on one foot as you lift one knee to the chest. Switch sides and repeat for 60 seconds.

2. Cat-Cow

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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Csolak says cat-cow stretches help with increased articulation of the vertebral column and allow surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments to prepare for movement. "This exercise also expands the intercostal muscles of the ribs for better breathing as well as activation of your abdominal muscles and diaphragm," she adds.

Directions: In a quadruped position (all fours) with your knees and hands directly below your hips and shoulders respectively, lower your stomach toward the ground while looking upward. Simultaneously, tilt your hips toward the ground, sending your posterior to the ceiling. Then reverse the motion by looking downward, sending your thoracic and lumbar spine upward, and tucking your tailbone.

3. Soccer Kick With Overhead Reach

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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Coleman recommends doing this stretch. It's a great way to warm up.

Directions: Start with your feet hip-width apart and with your arms stretched up by your ears above your heart. Lift one knee up, pressing your palms down toward your thigh to tap the top of your knee. Lower the leg back down and repeat the action on the opposite side. Try to find a steady tempo to build heat and your heart rate. Exhale as the leg and arms come toward one another to engage your core, stand up tall, and try to prevent rounding forward in the body.

4. Leg Swings

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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Schenone says this stretch targets the groin, hip flexors, and quadriceps, and it opens the hips and lengthens the groin muscles.

Directions: Standing, face a wall and place your hands on it. Balance on one leg as you swing the other leg from the left to the right for 30 to 45 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.

5. World's Greatest Stretch

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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"There is a lot going on here, which is why it's known as WGS (the world's greatest stretch)," says Csolak. "The benefits include increased mobility in the glutes, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, quadriceps, thoracic spine, chest, and cervical spine."

Directions: You start in a push-up position (high plank) and bring one foot just to the outside of your hand on the same side with a bent knee. Keep the opposite knee straight. In this position, take the hand next to the foot and reach upward as you look past your thumb.

6. Hip Circles

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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Csolak recommends trying this easy stretch. It can help loosen the muscles.

Directions: Standing upright, explore the range of motion of the hip girdle by drawing one knee to the chest, then externally rotating before placing the leg down. Reverse directions.

7. Arm Circles

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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This stretch opens the shoulders and chest, Schenone says. It targets your deltoids, 360-shoulder muscles, and chest.

Directions: Standing, move both arms in a circular motion, keeping them straight. Do this for 30 to 45 seconds, switch sides, and repeat.

8. Figure Four

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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"This is a great hip opener, mainly targeting the piriformis, and can help improve sciatica for those whose muscles are causing them discomfort," Csolak says.

Directions: Lying on your back (supine), place one foot just over the bent knee of the opposite leg. From here, weave your hand in between your bent knee and the "four" you just made. With your opposite hand on the outside of the same knee, reach to hold your "weaved" hand. Pull this knee toward the same-side shoulder and drive your tailbone to the ground.

9. Inchworms

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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Coleman says that this is an excellent exercise to work through the entire back body and elevate your heart rate.

Directions: Lay a mat longways in front of the body. Start with your feet hip-width apart and with your arms outstretched toward the sky. Inhale, look up, and then tuck the chin and roll the body down toward your toes on your exhale. At your bottom point, gently walk your hands out to a full plank. Reverse the pattern to come back to standing. Gently bend your knees to help your hamstrings if they are tight.

10. Lunge With a Twist

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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This one releases the spine, increases mobility and balance, strengthens the legs, and increases heart rate. Schenone says it targets the spine, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and abdominals.

Directions: From a standing position, step back with your left foot into a lunge as you twist your spine to the right. Return to standing and switch sides, repeating for 30 to 45 seconds.

11. Side Lunge With Thoracic Rotation

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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"This exercise works into your ankle and mid-back mobility while firing up your glutes and stretching your inner thighs," Coleman says.

Directions: Step out to the side landing with a bent working leg and a long stretched inner thigh on the other leg. Hold the side lunge with your chest slightly forward on an incline and tailbone reaching back. From there, open up your outside arm toward the sky, taking your focus with it, and squeeze your shoulder blades together to engage the back. Close the arm down through your obliques and then return back to full extension.

12. Jump Squats

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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Schenone says this strengthens the legs and increases the heart rate. It targets all the leg muscles and abdominals.

Directions: From a standing position, bend your knees and sit into a squat. Use your strength to lengthen your legs and jump off the ground. Return to your squat position. Repeat for 60 seconds.

13. Mountain Climbers

Here's Why You Need to Do These 13 Stretches Before Workouts

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"Mountain climbers will elevate your heart rate and activate your entire body by maintaining your plank!" Coleman says.

Directions: Come to a full plank with your shoulders, elbows, and wrists stacked in a solid line. Maintain a soft bend in the elbows as you start to pull each knee in and out one at a time. Start slow, then work your way up to a quicker tempo if your body and form allow.

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