Gym Smarts: Skip stretching, focus on muscle activation before workouts

Cason Hunwick

You can find them in the corners of the track at Gregory Gymnasium and on the mats outside the Recreational Sports Center weight room: gym-goers laying on a leg, clutching an ankle or stretching to prepare for a workout.

But student stretchers often miss the mark in following an effective warm up routine, said personal trainer and UT alumna Rhonda Huynh.

“You are already in a static position all day long, so it’s a bad idea to go into static stretches before a workout,” Huynh said. “While they help with elasticity, you can easily trade it out for something better.”

Whether you’re lifting weights or running, your workout should start with moving around, according to Huynh.

“If you’re in a chair all day, it’s best to work in some mobility before you jump into exercises,” Huynh said. “Turn on the muscles that you’re going to be using. Let’s say I’m doing squats, in that case I would do some band exercises that activate my lower body.”

Bottom line is, get some blood flowing to the right areas before you hit the weights, Huynh said. For cardio, it’s also important to add some mobility to engage the right muscles before you run.

“With something that’s a little more cardio-based, like Zumba or running, something more dynamic would suit that workout better,” Huynh said. “Maybe it’s something like a lunge or a spine rotation.”

The best time to stretch and recover is after you’ve worked out, Huynh said.

“Usually at the end of a workout is when you want to stretch, because the muscles are warm,” Huynh said. “Now that you’ve done all this activity, you can work on recovery and flexibility.”

Stretching is also something you should do throughout the week to improve elasticity and avoid injury, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

It takes commitment, but regular stretching keeps muscles flexible, which means they can handle exertion better and the body will be less susceptible to injury, according to Harvard Health.

However, stretching today won’t magically give you perfect flexibility. Harvard Health says it can take months to recover tight muscles, so staying committed to a stretching routine is the best tool against injury.

Editor’s note: Gym Smarts is a recurring column that discusses the science behind popular workout and wellness topics. Information in this column cannot replace legitimate medical advice. If you think you have serious muscular, postural problems or an injury, be sure to consult a physical trainer or certified expert.