When most of us think about what it would take to build stronger muscles, we immediately picture grinding out intense weight training sessions in the gym. While this is certainly an important part of the equation, it might surprise you to learn that how you handle your rest and recovery time can make or break your strength training program. Below are some key points regarding how stretching and getting enough rest might very well be the missing links that will help you make genuine progress in your endeavor to build stronger muscles.
The Benefits of Stretching
Stretching should be just as much a part of your workout regimen as the weight training exercises you're going to perform. Here are just some of the many benefits of stretching before and after your workouts:
- Stretching will enhance your flexibility, which means that your muscles will be better able to return back to their original form after being constricted or contracted.
- Stretching relieves muscular tension, easing that dreaded tightness or "knotted" feeling in your muscles.
- Stretching improves your circulation by boosting blood flow to your muscles and joints.
- Stretching will help you develop a greater range of motion, which is a key to preventing injuries.
- Stretching allows you to cool your body down gradually after you work out, which will help prevent you from putting too much strain on your heart muscle. By engaging in some post-workout stretches, you can gradually reduce your heart rate instead of going from one extreme to the other.
- Stretching helps to eliminate the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles after you work out, which in turn will help reduce those feelings of soreness and muscle fatigue.
Dynamic Stretching vs. Static Stretching
There are certain types of stretches that are good to do before working out but not after, and vice-versa. For pre-workout stretching, most experts recommend performing dynamic stretches, which are active motions that are similar to the actual exercise and/or that will warm up the muscles used in the exercise (e.g., squats, lunges, jumping jacks, etc.).
Static stretches, on the other hand, are the "classic" types of stretches that involve extending your muscles and holding them in a static position for 15-30 seconds at a time. Your post-workout stretching regimen should mainly consist of static stretches, as they are much easier to perform (and less likely to cause a strain or injury) after your muscles have been warmed up.
Rest: The Missing Link to Stronger Muscles
Getting enough rest between your workouts is critical to proper muscle growth and recovery. Unfortunately, many fitness enthusiasts sabotage their efforts in the gym by depriving their bodies of adequate rest time. Here are a few key reasons why you should not overlook the importance of allowing your body to build itself back up again between workout sessions:
- Every time you perform strength training exercises, you create tiny, microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, which temporarily breaks them down. Once you leave the gym, your body immediately goes to work to repair those broken down tissues in order to make them stronger. Without getting adequate rest, your body will not have the time it needs to perform these much-needed repairs.
- After an intense workout session, not only do your muscles need a break, but your central nervous system needs time to recover as well. By taking a day off between intense strength training workouts, you can ensure that your central nervous system gets the rest it needs to ramp back up from a taxing performance.
- Getting adequate rest will help you maintain a healthy immune system, which in turn will enable your body to properly recover between workouts. By getting a good amount of sleep every night (between 6 to 8 hours), you can keep your immune system adequately fortified for those critical rest days.
As you can see, paying attention to how you treat your body outside of the gym matters just as much as what you're doing during your workouts. Be sure to keep these important points in mind, so that you can leverage stretching and rest to help you build stronger muscles.