Whether you reach for light dumbbells or the heaviest bar in the gym, lifting weights is one of the best strength training activities there is. It can build muscle, burn calories, and improve bone density. However, because lifting weights constricts the muscles, if you’re not careful, your own body can actually hinder your gains. That’s where stretches to improve strength training come in.
In addition to just feeling good, stretching improves flexibility, allowing you to go deeper into a lift. This translates to better execution, which, in turn, translates to better results. Less noticeable but equally important, stretching circulates blood and oxygen to keep joints and muscles healthy. It helps to rebuild muscles after a tough workout, and it can even rid the body of lactic acid.
Don’t believe us? Try it for yourself with a stretching class on the Aaptiv app today.
“I think most lifters lose sight of the fact that a regular stretching routine is going to allow for a greater range of motion in both lifting and in life,” says Aaptiv trainer Ceasar F. Barajas. He notes that many bodybuilders and CrossFitters become very tight in the shoulders due to the strenuous training. That makes it difficult to perform certain movements, ranging from heart-opening yoga poses to simply scratching the middle of one’s back. So, we asked Barajas to break down the best stretches to improve strength training.
Six Stretches to Improve Strength Training
“Before you attempt any of these, spend three to five minutes really warming up the body with jumping jacks, high knees, butt kicks or walking lunges,” Barajas says. That will help you get into these stretches smoothly, and stay in them.
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. 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. Yogis will know this pose as “malasana.”
Why: “This is excellent for all variations of squat work,” says Barajas. “It helps the body bring the hip crease below knee level when doing a variety of squats. If you can lower all the way down with your heels flat, you’ve got excellent hip mobility.”
Hip and Groin Opener
How: Utilize the same position as the deep squat to lower your body to the ground, with your heels flat and chest up. Then take the left hand and place it on top of the left foot, using the left elbow to push the left knee out. Rotate your right arm up and back as if you’re trying to grab something above and behind you. Hold for five to six deep, conscious breath cycles, then switch sides.
Why: “This is not only a hip and groin opener, but an excellent spinal twist and shoulder opener,” says Barajas. “Be mindful that this is not always easy to get into, but should be attempted little by little every day—and especially on days that you’re lifting—to start introducing this kind of movement to your body.”
How: Lie face down on the floor with your legs straight back and your arms extended past your head. Raise your arms and legs as high as you comfortably can, hold, and then lower back to the ground. Do three sets of 10 reps.
Why: This exercise stretches and strengthens your lower and middle back for a stronger core. A strong core is essential for stability in nearly all facets of weight lifting.
How: Lying on your back, bend your knees about 90 degrees. Move your heels toward your butt. Squeeze your glutes, drive your heels through the floor, brace your shoulders against the ground, and lift your hips to the sky. Keep your heels on the floor throughout the exercise. Hold for a few seconds and repeat.
Why: The hip bridge targets the front and back of your body, stretching your quads and hip flexors, while strengthening your glutes and lower back. Strong glutes and a sturdy lower back are vital to total body lifts like the squat and deadlift.
Hanging Lat Stretch
How: Find a pullup bar, grab it with both hands, and just hang out.
Why: Barajas likes this stretch for its ability to open up the shoulder joints, upper back and abs, which improves range of motion for a wide variety of upper body lifts. He suggests letting the body go completely limp for a few breaths, and then spend a few moments retracting the shoulder blades.
How: Stand with your back and heels against a wall. Raise your arms into the goalpost position, with your arms bent at 90 degrees and the backs of your hands touching the wall. Slowly raise and lower your arms, trying to keep your hands and forearms touching the wall the entire time.
Why: Wall extensions improve shoulder mobility, which is beneficial for any lifts or bar grabs that occur behind your head, including the snatch and the clean and jerk.
Stretching and strength training go hand-in-hand—and Aaptiv offers both.