Question: I have been working out with weights three times a week for about six months. I was wondering if I should add stretching to my workout routine. Since I have never stretched before would it be beneficial for me to join a stretching class such as yoga and what do I look for in an instructor?
Can Yoga Stretching Exercises Complement Strength Training?
My answer really depends upon what your goal is for introducing stretching exercises into your workout. If you have a balanced strength training routine that works the muscles properly on each side of every joint, then you may never HAVE to stretch at all. Your joints are already getting the health benefits that many experts usually attribute to stretching, such as the prevention of joint stiffness and degeneration associated with aging.
If your goal is to increase your range of motion because you don’t think you are “flexible” enough, then you may want to re-think your goal. There is no benefit to having super loose joints for 99.9 % of the population. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that people whose joints have considerable laxity or excessive “play” have a higher incidence of osteoarthritis and other forms of joint degeneration, furthermore, it is only through increasing muscle strength around those joints and reducing the laxity do they become more healthy.
If your goal is to use stretching to “encourage your muscles to relax” then we believe that stretching is a very useful tool. A recent study at the Mayo Clinic compared the increases in range of motion created by regular passive stretching versus a short meditation session after strength training. They found that the group that meditated after strength training had as good or better increases in range of motion than the stretching group.
To many of us this demonstrates that the initial aim of stretching for the majority of the population is to learn how to relax their muscles, not stretch or lengthen the tissue. For example, common stretches for your hamstrings do not actually change the length of the muscle fibers or tissue. These stretches alter the level of “slight constant contraction” found when a muscle is at rest. (When a muscle is not lengthened regularly, this contractile state “takes up the slack” to maintain the muscles current length utilized.) So stretching does not typically lengthen the actual fibers and tendon, it just resets the contractile ready state.
Remember, truly stretching almost any material or tissue will make it thinner and weaker. The key then is to continue to strengthen your tissue to keep it healthy and find methods of teaching your brain/neurological system to relax and not tighten your muscles and stiffen your joints.
With that in mind let’s examine the efficacy of yoga classes. If you find a yoga class where the instructor is extremely flexible and believes that everyone can and should become as flexible as he or she is… run away as fast as you can. These people are dangerous. They do not understand the body and the fact that each one of us has very different anatomical limitations in joint range of motion. They will most likely create degenerative forces in your joints by trying to impose their joints’ abilities upon you.
If you find a yoga instructor that emphasizes strengthening the muscles around your joints through control (currently marketed as Power Yoga) and then focuses on breathing and relaxation, then you may have found a beneficial addition to your weight training program. Improved breathing, mental clarity, posture and strength are all benefits that can be obtained from yoga when done consistently, but are all very important aspects of lifting weights, too, and thus compliment each other well.
Do you even lift? Yoga and weight lifting!
Video Source: Breathe and Flow