If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s easy to hone in on workouts that burn as many calories as possible. For many people, this means cardio, cardio, cardio. While it’s true that cardio can help burn calories and contribute to losing weight, trainers say it would be a mistake to make it your only focus. Strength training and rest also play important roles in losing weight in a healthy way. And do you know what else does? Stretching.
Many people don’t think of stretching as contributing to weight loss, but there are several ways that it does exactly that. Here, trainers explain exactly how and give five simple stretches to work into your routine.
How Is Stretching Connected to Weight Loss?
“The reason stretching is so important in one’s weight loss journey is the simple fact that stretching will keep your joints and muscles feeling good,” says Cobi Hopkins, CPT, a personal trainer and the corporate director of training and exercise at StretchU, a full-body assisted stretching company that provides one-to-one assisted stretching. “If your body is feeling good, you’ll be much more motivated to exercise and keep up with your program,” he adds.
This makes complete sense when you think about it. It can be tempting to jump into a new workout routine and go hard every single day. But doing this doesn’t allow the body to recover properly. And when you don’t feel good, you’re more likely to give up on your workout goals completely. “While there are many factors that contribute to how efficient you are at burning calories, having strong and happy muscles can play a major part in this,” medical exercise specialist Melissa McGuire, MES, says. “Your muscles are happy when they have good flexibility and a healthy range of motion at every joint.”
In addition to keeping the body feeling good, both trainers say that stretching can help with muscle growth. “When we lift weights, we tear muscles down. To actually build muscle, we need to recover from that exercise, and stretching helps enhance that process,” Hopkins says.
He adds that stretching consistently will allow someone to move through their exercises with a greater range of motion. “If you can lift the same weight with a greater range of motion over time, that will lead to more muscle growth,” he says.
Different Types of Stretching to Work Into Your Routine
McGuire and Hopkins explain that there are different types of stretching, which have slightly different benefits: isometric-active stretching, dynamic active stretching, passive stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, which are explained in more detail below:
- Isometric-active stretching: “This type of stretching is like when you’re holding the hardest part of a yoga pose,” McGuire says. “Some of the muscles are training to relax, but the opposing muscles are squeezing tight.” She explains that the benefit of this is that the stretched muscles loosen, which increases the range of motion at the joint. Additionally, the holding muscles get stronger too. “It’s a win for both strength and flexibility, which helps keep the body in balance,” McGuire says.
- Dynamic-active stretching: McGuire explains that dynamic active stretching is movement-oriented. For example, doing 10 reps of deep squats. This type of stretching, she says, stretches muscles out and loosens them up.
- Passive stretching: Passive stretching, McGuire explains, is when you hold a stretch. “Your muscles eventually will relax, but you don’t have to work on contracting anything,” she says. While McGuire says that passive stretching is the least effective for weight loss, she says that it is still beneficial for helping muscles recover from active workouts.
- Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF): “PNF is stretching where you go through a series of contractions and releases to increase your range of motion over time,” Hopkins says, adding that it can be great before or after a workout. This type of stretching “tricks” the nervous system by resisting pressure, which helps muscles relax so you get a deeper stretch.
5 Stretches To Incorporate Into Your Routine
McGuire recommends doing some light stretching every day. It can be especially beneficial to stretch before and after you work out. “Typically, we recommend dynamic stretching before exercise and [passive] stretching afterward,” Hopkins says. “Dynamic stretching is great to lubricate the joints and get the blood flowing. [Passive] stretching involves holding a stretch for 30 to 60 seconds while focusing on long, deep breaths which is great for recovery from intense exercise.”
Here are five stretches to try, tied to the different types of stretching the trainers say can help with weight loss:
1. Plank pose
Holding a plank is an example of an isometric-active stretch, which as McGuire says builds strength and flexibility. To do a plank, place your hands directly under your shoulders while placing your toes on the ground, a few inches apart. Hold the position for 20 seconds, gradually working up to one minute, if you are able to.
2. Walking lunges
Walking lunges are a dynamic active stretch. Start in a standing position. Step forward with your right leg, bending the knee to 90 degrees. Pause in the lunge position for a couple of seconds. Bring your left leg forward to meet your right leg. Now, step forward with your left leg and move into a lunge position. Repeat doing 10 lunges per leg.
3. High kicks
This is another example of a dynamic active stretch. To do high kicks, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lift one leg straight out, as high as you can. Reach for your toes with the opposite hand, while keeping your neck and back straight. Bring your leg back down and repeat with the other leg. Do 10 high kicks per leg.
4. Runner’s lunge
For a passive stretch, try a runner’s lunge by starting in a standing position and stepping one foot back behind you. Keep the other leg bent at 90 degrees. Place your hands on either side of the front foot. Hold for a few breaths and then switch, bringing the opposite leg in front.
5. Hamstring stretch
A hamstring stretch is a common PNF stretch. Lie on the floor with one foot on the ground. Stretch the other leg up toward the ceiling as you wrap both arms around your thigh. Hold for 20 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.