Weightlifting is straightforward in theory (you just, erm…lift weights, right?). But it’s a bit more complicated in practice. As a beginner to weightlifting, it’s confusing (not to mention intimidating) to figure out which muscles to target, how much to lift, and how often to work out. How are you supposed to know where to even begin with finding a good weightlifting program?
Although it might seem daunting at first, the benefits of lifting weights far outweigh any hurdles you might have to getting started. William P. Kelley, C.S.C.S, ATC, says some major benefits of weightlifting include improved strength, bone density, and heart health. Studies even suggest that it can help keep your brain sharp, as well as increase energy levels and decrease stress.
Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Beachbody’s senior manager of fitness and nutrition content, notes that lifting weights is also an effective way to lose weight: “Weightlifting can help you lose fat faster than steady state cardio because it keeps your metabolism elevated for longer post workout,” he explains. “The result is that it helps you burn more total calories.”
But before you get to enjoy all the benefits of lifting weights, you first have to get started. The first step? Creating smart goals.
What Are Your Weightlifting Goals?
“Goal-setting is critical to guiding your weightlifting path,” Kelley says. Before you even choose a weightlifting program, consider what you want to get out of it. Are you training for a specific event, for general health, or with aesthetics in mind? Do you want to lose weight, build strength, pack on muscle, or achieve a combination of any or all three of those goals?
“Each objective requires a different strategy, and by identifying your goal or goals, you can identify the most effective training program to achieve it,” Thieme says. The tips below will help you do that.
If you need some extra guidance to help you get started, check out Beachbody On Demand’s weightlifting programs, like Body Beast (which focuses on muscle building) and A Week of Hard Labor (an intense, five-day weightlifting routine). Both programs can help you achieve the lean, muscular physique you’ve always dreamed of building. (See the results for yourself!)
13 Common Questions About Starting a Weightlifting Program
These 13 questions and answers will give you the information you need to start lifting weights, including basic training tips and mistakes to avoid.
1. What equipment do I need for a weightlifting program?
If you’re starting an at-home weightlifting program, dumbbells are a necessity — but having just a single pair may not cut it.
Thieme says you need different weights to effectively challenge different muscle groups. Your legs should be able to handle heavier weights than your triceps, for example. That’s why he recommends investing in a pair of selectorized (AKA adjustable) dumbbells (like this set of Bowflex dumbbells). “A single pair of dumbbells can replace an entire dumbbell rack, saving you hundreds of dollars—not to mention lots of floor space,” he says.
A bench is another useful piece of equipment for developing overall strength and power, Kelly says, although you could get by without one if you’re short on space.
2. How much weight should I lift?
“You should always lift the heaviest amount of weight that allows you to complete all of your reps and sets for all of the exercises in your workout,” Thieme says.
If you can’t maintain proper form for the last several reps of an exercise, go lighter. If you can breeze through your reps with the last few feeling as comfortable as the first few, go heavier. The key to achieving muscle growth is to find your sweet spot, which in this case means a weight that challenges you without forcing you to sacrifice good form.
3. How many reps and sets should I do for each weightlifting exercise?
First, consider your weightlifting goals. “If you want increased strength, you should do from two to six reps per set. For hypertrophy [muscle growth] do eight to 12 reps. And for endurance, do 15 to 20 reps,” Kelley says.
As for sets, Thieme says it’s important to do multiple sets of each exercise, no matter your goal. Three sets per exercise is generally a good number, but don’t lock yourself into that. As long as you’re doing at least two and not more than five or six, you’re good. And if you want to increase your strength, build bigger muscles, and improve your muscular endurance, regularly vary the number of reps and sets you do.
“Optimal muscle growth occurs when you target both of the major muscle fiber types—I and II—and the best way achieve that is by lifting across the entire rep spectrum,” says Thieme. “Incorporate both heavy weight/low rep sets and light weight/high rep sets in your training program.”
4. Should I focus on one or two body parts a day, or do full-body workouts every time?
Both are effective strategies for packing on muscle. “The key is to work each body part or muscle group at least twice a week,” says Thieme, who suggests alternating between the two training strategies. “Do split training for two or three months, and then do total body training for two or three months.”
Your schedule is also a determining factor, Kelley notes. “If you can only work out two to three times per week, then a total body lifting program may be more efficient,” he says.
5. How many days per week should I lift weights?
How often you lift weights comes down to your goals and schedule as well, Kelley says. (Doe we sound like a broken record yet?)
“The ratio of exercise to recovery days that maximizes results and minimizes injury and overtraining risks depends largely on your current fitness level and the type, intensity, and duration of your workouts,” Thieme says. He recommends lifting a minimum of two days a week a maximum of six days.
6. Do I need to take rest days during a weightlifting program?
Yes! Giving yourself a day off from training is crucial to your weightlifting success. “Lifting days are where you [purposefully] damage muscle tissue,” Kelley says, while “rest/recovery days are when muscles repair and rebuild.” Both days are needed to become stronger.
If you don’t give yourself sufficient recovery time, you’ll sabotage your workout performance and hinder your results. “Training adaptations don’t happen during workouts, they happen between them, making recovery days just as important as training days,” says Thieme. “What people often forget is that, when it comes to exercise, more isn’t always better. You have to give your body the time it needs to respond to the training stimulus that each workout provides.”
How often you should take a recovery day depends on your fitness level, primary exercise type and intensity, age, and sleep habits, but a good rule of thumb is to take one or two rest/recovery days a week.
If you feel energized on your designated rest days, Kelley recommends active recovery activities, which facilitate blood flow to your muscles without overloading them. Yoga and light cardio (e.g., an easy jog, leisurely bike ride, or short hike) are good options. Also, don’t limit warm-up and cool-down activities to warm-ups and cool-downs. Perform dynamic stretching and foam rolling every day, regardless of whether or not you’re working out.
7. How do I avoid a muscle-building plateau?
There are numerous factors that contribute to muscle growth, but the key to achieving consistent gains is to regularly increase the challenge to your muscles, Kelley says. “By increasing the stress on a muscle through a principle called ‘progressive overload,’ you illicit changes in that muscle, including greater size, greater contraction force, and improved motor recruitment,” he explains.
Lifting progressively heavier weights isn’t the only way to do that. “Other ways to achieve progressive overload include decreasing the rest periods between sets, performing more complex exercise variations, and switching up the exercises you do,” says Thieme. “Even changing up your grip (e.g., from underhand to neutral) can increase the challenge to your muscles and trigger fresh growth.”
8. Can I do my weightlifting program and still do cardio and other workouts?
The short answer: yes. But you need to be strategic about it. “If your focus is weightlifting, then you should use cardio as a form of ‘active recovery,'” says Thieme.
If you do a heavy weightlifting session one day, and then go for an easy run the next, you can actually enhance your recovery (and results) from the weightlifting session by boosting blood flow—and the vital nutrient delivery and waste removal services it provides. “But a heavy weightlifting workout followed by a long, hard run or HIIT session the next day can do more harm than good,” says Thieme.
If you don’t allow your body sufficient time to recover between intense workouts, the only thing you’ll achieve is an increased risk of burnout and injury.
9. Will weightlifting make me bulky?
Lifting weights can cause men to become bulky if they focus solely and intensely on bodybuilding or pure strength training, Thieme explains, but this is rarely the case for women. Why? Genetics.
Men typically have a higher percentage of type II muscle fibers, which are bigger and have a higher growth potential than type I fibers. Plus, men produce more testosterone, which is critical for muscle building. “Women do not produce testosterone at high enough levels naturally to get bulky,” Kelley says, even if they’re lifting heavy amounts of weight. That said, a woman can still increase her muscle size through weightlifting if that’s her goal. “Studies also show that while most women can’t build as much muscle as most men, they can achieve similar increases in strength,” says Thieme.
10. How do I make sure I’m lifting with proper form?
Practicing correct weightlifting form is key to preventing injury and getting the results you want. The best way to guarantee good form? “Utilize a fitness professional [like a trainer] until you feel safe and confident in the staple lifts of your program,” Kelley says.
If you’re working out on Beachbody On Demand, pay attention to the trainers as they explain the correct starting stance, movement pattern, and key form points for each exercise, as well as which muscles to engage during the moves. Having a friend observe you can also help you keep your form on point.
11. How long should I follow a weightlifting program?
In general, Kelley recommends maintaining a specific weightlifting program for three to five weeks before you mix it up. “This gives the muscles time to adapt and grow in the current program; then, just as they acclimate, you tweak the program slightly to keep progressing,” he explains.
Perhaps more important than the timeline, however, is paying attention to the way your routine makes you feel. “If you haven’t increased the weight you’re lifting after a few weeks, or if you’ve noticed a significant drop in your motivation, it’s time to switch things up,” Thieme says.
Of course, if you follow a professionally designed program, like you’ll find on Beachbody On Demand, knowing when to switch things up isn’t even a concern. “Such variation is built into the program, eliminating the stress and guesswork for you,” says Thieme.
12. What should I eat before and after a workout to maximize my performance?
Before a weightlifting workout, focus on carbs, which will help top off your energy stores. The key is to choose something that you can digest before you start exercising. A piece of fruit is a good choice if you have 30 minutes or less until you work out. If your workout is still an hour out, our go-to recommendation is a piece of whole grain toast with nut butter.
Post-workout, the most important factor is protein, which can help facilitate muscle growth and speed recovery, Thieme says. Aim for 20 grams of fast-absorbing protein (like whey) within 30 minutes of exercising. A protein supplement such as Beachbody Performance Recover makes that easy.
13. How do I know if my weightlifting program is working?
To get the most accurate and objective measure of progress, Kelley suggests recording your workouts and tracking the numbers. “If you can increase the weight you lift by
Question of the Day: How Big of a Deal is Alcohol When it Comes to My Fitness Goals?
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Have you tried this NEW workout plan that everyone is talking about?
Building a Strong Immune System
Just as we strive to condition our physical bodies with exercise and nutrition, we can also strive to condition and strengthen ourselves on a cellular level. I have not been sick, not even a cold, since 1989.
Our bodies are created with a beautiful defense called the immune system. It fights off foreign antigens and pathogens and protects and defends healthy cells. Immunity, or a healthy immune response, activates via processing through receptors that identify a foreign antigen. B cells and T cells must first recognize that a foreign antigen is present for an immune response to occur. B cells are able to bind to antigens and produce antibodies to create an antibody-mediated immunity. T cells recognize antigenic proteins and attack and eliminate the intruders, creating a cell-mediated immunity. Different T cells have different responses and functions related to the type of antigen that is intruding. There are killer T cells, suppressor T cells and memory T cells, among others, that mediate a class of allergic response. All have their specific function, along with B cells as a natural mechanism that is programmed in our bodies, working in conjunction with cytokines, small protein hormones that regulate immune response to build resistance and ward off disease.
The primary objective of our immune system is to ward off and build a resistance to disease. It also has the ability to create immunological memory, in which memory B cells and memory T cells remain after the primary response of exposure to an antigen. In doing so, it is better prepared to respond to any secondary exposures. Over time, our bodies learn to build a specific resistance to a specific antigen and create antibodies to destroy future intrusion by the antigen. This is how we naturally build immunity against diseases.
I believe in allowing my body to perform its natural response functions as they relate to immunity. Coming in contact with pathogens and antigens helps us to build strong resistance to diseases, of both a viral or bacterial nature. By allowing the natural response to occur, our immune systems gain strength by being able to do what they were designed to do – ward off, resist and recognize for future exposure. It is the natural defense of the body.
Just as we strive to condition our physical bodies with exercise and nutrition, we can also strive to condition and strengthen ourselves on a cellular level. I have not been sick, not even a cold, since 1989. For over three decades I have kept my immune system strong by proper nutrition, hydration, exercise, hygiene, rest and supplementation. I am consistent and diligent in executing these areas daily. My nutrition consists of five healthy, organic meals per day. I space my meals by three-hour intervals. I hydrate with one gallon of water each day. I weight train six days per week, and perform cardiovascular exercise seven days per week for 30 minutes each day. As a hygiene rule, I never touch my face, and I thoroughly wash my hands before eating or drinking. I sleep between six to eight hours per night. All of these good habits continue to improve and strengthen my immune system, but I give a great deal of credit to my supplementation. Here is a list of my daily vitamins, minerals, and amino acids:
With Meal One
1 Solgar VM-75
2000 IU Nature Made Vitamin D3 tablets
3 capsules (1,575 mg) Nature’s Way Dandelion Root
1 tbsp Barlean’s Liquid Omegas
With Meal Two
2000 IU Nature Made Vitamin D3 tablets
250 mg Nature Made Magnesium tablet
50 mg Solgar Zinc tablet
With Meal Three
1 Solgar VM-75
1000 IU Nature Made Vitamin D3 tablet
250 mg Nature Made Magnesium tablet
3 mg boron tablet
Pre-exercise: 1 scoop of Original Xtend Branched Chain Amino Acids + Electrolytes, 30 minutes prior to exercise. Xtend contains 1000 mg of citrulline malate, which is an important nutrient that may provide immune-strengthening properties to our bodies.
Note: Please consult with a physician before the use of any supplement, especially if an individual is on a prescribed medication. The dosages listed above are my own personal regimen. Women and children may adjust to lower dosages of the above-mentioned vitamins, minerals and amino acids, just as each individual may require different dosages. Thorough blood work can give you insight as to the vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in your own personal body.
A strong, healthy, functioning immune system can benefit us in so many ways. It may provide consistent health, longevity, recovery and overall well-being to be enjoyed throughout your years. Health is our greatest commodity, so with the application of good habits, create the best environment in your body and enjoy it every day!
Have you tried this NEW workout plan that everyone is talking about?
Is Stretching Good for You?
To stretch or not to stretch: That is the question.
Some trainers swear it’s essential; others argue that it’s worthless. Some say you shouldn’t even touch a weight until you’ve thoroughly stretched every muscle; others warn that preworkout stretching is counterproductive, even dangerous.
Don’t roll up your mat just yet, though — there’s a reason for the confusion.
“When most people think ‘stretching,’ they think of a runner putting their foot up on a railing, and holding it there for 15 seconds before they run,” says trainer and injury-prevention expert John Rusin, DPT, CSCS, PPSC. But there’s a lot more to flexibility training.
Simple as it sounds, stretching can cover a broad range of activities, Rusin says — from powerful, explosive moves to slower, more soothing ones. And they all play a role in optimizing your fitness, no matter your preferred sport or activity.
3 Types of Stretching:
- This is the type that comes to mind when most people think of stretching: You assume a position that elongates a muscle or set of muscles — by reaching for your toes, for example — and hold the position for 30 seconds or more. Restorative yoga is an example.
- This approach consists of powerful, repeated movements, performed with an extended range of motion, often incorporating athletic movements like reaching, running, or jumping. Think front and high-knee kicks, arm circles, walking lunges, and many other moves familiar to field athletes.
- Probably the least familiar modality to most gym-goers: You get into a stretch and systematically contract areas around the stretching muscles to enhance function and strength. As the name suggests, most moves focus on mobilizing a single joint, and sometimes a single movement in one joint. Variations include proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, functional range conditioning, and many physical-therapy treatments.
By incorporating the right stretching techniques into your routine, you can ensure steady progress in mobility, athleticism, and range of motion — all essential components of an effective and balanced fitness program.
Static Stretching: Classic Flexibility-Builder
The original stretch is an oldie but a goodie. Despite research suggesting that static stretching temporarily reduces strength, most trainers still recommend this approach.
Why? Recent research, including a 2019 meta-review of past studies, indicates that any reduction in strength and power caused by short sessions of static stretching is minimal (less than 2 percent) and short-lived (10 minutes or less). So unless you’re preparing to compete in an athletic event requiring maximal strength and power (tennis or golf, for example), or trying to hit a personal record in a lift, light preworkout stretching should not be a problem.
In fact, the benefits of static stretching often depend on when you do it:
- Before your workout. If you’re about to perform an activity that requires a significant range of motion — a barbell squat, a tour jeté, or a high roundhouse kick, for example — static stretching associated muscles beforehand can be beneficial. For example, if you feel constriction through the hips, performing a hip-flexor stretch before squatting could help, says Rusin.
- After your workout. “Static stretching enhances the parasympathetic, or rest-and-digest, arm of the nervous system,” he notes. “That makes it great to use after exercise, when you’re trying to wind down rather than ramp up.” Postworkout, your muscles are also loose, warm, and engorged with blood — a perfect time to lengthen them with minimal risk of injury.
- Between workouts. Are there chronically tight areas of your body that don’t seem to relax no matter what you do? If so, it’s a good idea to stretch those areas on off days, during breaks at work, or before bed on workout days, holding the positions for up to five minutes each. Tight hip flexors, calves, pectorals, and glutes are common among desk workers, so stretch those areas regularly.
Whenever you do a static stretch, be specific about your alignment and focus, and be sure you’re stretching the right area: A few inches can mean the difference between an effective and an ineffective stretch.
Additionally, be prepared to spend some time in each stretch. “A pitfall with static stretching is that people don’t hold the stretch long enough to see any change,” explains Mike Thomson, CSCS, USATF, a Life Time personal trainer.
“Many people pull their arm across the body to stretch their triceps and lateral deltoid or grab their foot behind their body to stretch their quad — but hold it for only 10 to 20 seconds. That doesn’t do much to increase flexibility over time.” Aim for a minimum of one to two minutes in each static stretch.
And “static” doesn’t mean you should remain motionless. Instead, oscillate slightly in, out, and around the stretched position. Breathe deeply, Rusin advises, and try to settle farther into the stretch on each exhale.
“Small movements create more feedback from the nervous system.”
Standing Adductor Stretch
- Place your hands on a table or bench.
- Straighten your arms and step back from the bench a few feet.
- Keeping your feet parallel, step your feet out until they are about two shoulder widths apart.
- Keeping your lower back in its natural arch and your head and neck aligned with your spine, lower your chest toward the floor until you feel a deep stretch in your adductors (inner thighs) and hamstrings (backs of your legs).
- Maintaining excellent alignment in your torso, bend your right leg slightly, sinking into the stretch.
- Hold for five seconds, then repeat the move on the other side.
- Continue alternating sides for 60 seconds.
Low-Lunge Hip-Flexor Stretch
- Assume a half-kneeling position: right knee on the floor, left foot standing, torso upright, both knees and your left hip bent 90 degrees.
- Keeping your hips and shoulders square, tuck your pelvis as if attempting to point your tailbone between your legs.
- Maintaining this position, slowly rock your pelvis forward several inches until you feel a deep stretch in the front of your right hip.
- Continue oscillating in and out of the stretch for 60 seconds on each side.
- Stand behind a doorway and raise your arms out to the sides so that your elbows are about 5 inches higher than your shoulders.
- Draw your head and chin backward (as if making a double chin) and keep them there throughout the movement.
- Place the insides of your forearms against the sides of the jamb.
- Take a deep breath in, and on an exhale, press your chest through the doorway.
- Remain there for 60 seconds, breathing deeply, and attempting to press your chest farther forward on each exhale
Dynamic Stretching: Prepping to Move
Nothing gets you ready to move like dynamic stretching — large, controlled, repetitive movements that take your joints through a large range of motion.
Depending on your goals and fitness level, these moves can be relatively low intensity (think ankle or wrist circles), high intensity (walking lunges, jumping jacks, and inchworms), or somewhere in between.
The benefits are many. “Dynamic stretching is something I do before all exercise,” says Thomson. “It’s good for taking the joints and muscles through their full range of motion,” as well as increasing blood flow and instilling good movement patterns. “It’s also beneficial for the brain to know it’s game time.”
The best time to do dynamic stretching is prior to working out, when you’re trying to ramp up your muscles and nervous system to perform high-tension, high-intensity exercise with a large range of motion. After a few minutes, you’ll feel warmer, looser, more aligned, and ready to attack your workout.
It’s also a great option whenever you need a shot of energy during the day.
One caveat: Good form is essential. This type of warm-up requires substantial control and stability. In general, that means your hips and shoulders should be square, your neck should be aligned with your spine, your shoulders should be relaxed, and your breath should be smooth and continuous. Twisting, shrugging, bending, and holding your breath are all compensations for limited movement in the target area, explains Rusin.
The first few times you perform the moves below, use a mirror: They should look and feel smooth and athletic. If you can’t manage these (or any other) dynamic stretches with control and precision, stick to static stretches until you’ve become more comfortable in the correct positions.
Superman Stiff-Leg Deadlift
- Stand upright in a hallway, field, or other open space.
- Step forward with your right foot.
- Keeping your left leg long, your left foot pointed toward the floor, and your lower back in its natural arch, hinge forward on your right hip, extending your arms forward, until your torso, arms, and left leg form a straight line parallel to the floor.
- Pause in the extended position with your right leg slightly bent. You should feel a deep stretch in the hamstrings of your supporting leg.
- Slowly return to an upright position, lowering your arms to your sides.
- Repeat the move on the other side.
- Continue for a total of six to eight reps per side.
- Stand upright in a hallway, field, or other open space.
- Step forward with your right foot.
- Keeping your torso upright, raise your left knee to your chest, and take hold of your ankle with your right hand and your knee with your left.
- Flexing your left foot, pull your ankle as close to your belly button as possible, supporting your left knee in your left hand until you feel a deep stretch in your left glute.
- Lower your left foot to the floor, step forward with your right foot, and repeat for a total of six to eight reps per side.
Targeted Mobility: Working Your Edge
This newer form of stretching is used by practitioners of many different systems, including proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), fascial stretch therapy (FST), and functional range conditioning (FRC). Its purpose is not only to increase a joint’s range of motion but to improve your ability to control and generate force throughout that entire range as well.
“Every joint has both an active and a passive range of motion,” explains fitness coach and Kinstretch instructor Beth Lewis, FRC.
To illustrate, try this: Stand, raise your right knee in front of you as high as you can, and take note of how high it goes. That’s your active range of motion — the distance you can move the joint without assistance.
Then, Lewis says, lower your knee and repeat — this time, hugging your knee close to your chest with your right arm: You’ll easily get your knee a few inches higher. That’s your passive range — the distance the joint can move when you apply force and relax into the stretch.
“There’s always a difference,” she says.
If that difference is large — that is, your joints can achieve ranges of motion that your muscles on their own can’t control — the chances of injury when you fall, jump, or lift a heavy weight increase.
“With the right training, you can close the gap between your active and passive range,” she says. This will reduce injury risk and increase your capacity for safe and powerful athletic movement.
These improvements rarely come easily or quickly, which is why experts recommend practicing targeted mobility work with a qualified professional. The drills below, however, will give you a taste and help improve the functional range in your major joints.
Lewis suggests you practice the moves before workouts as a warm-up or between workout days.
“You can do many of these moves sitting in a chair,” she says. “The key is to give your brain constant input that your joints can move that way.”
Targeted Mobility Moves
- Assume an all-fours posture, hands below shoulders, knees below hips.
- Round the back upward (into the cat position) dropping your chin to your chest.
- Keeping your head and the rest of your back still, raise your tailbone upward, creating a slight arch in your lower back.
- Slowly arch your midback, upper back, and neck in sequence, attempting to articulate each joint of the spine until your back is fully arched in cow position. Raise your head at the end of the move so that you are looking forward. Don’t pull your shoulder blades together; simply articulate the spine between them.
- Starting at the tailbone, tuck your pelvis and sequentially articulate your spine the other way until you are back to the cat position.
- Repeat the move three to five times, attempting to slow the move. Articulate each joint of the spine as clearly as you can with each repetition.
Scapular-Controlled Articular Rotations
- Sit or stand in an upright position with your head stacked on top of your spine, arms hanging by your sides, and your feel parallel and shoulder width apart.
- Breathing freely throughout the movement, shrug your shoulders up as high as possible.
- Without craning your neck forward, slowly roll your shoulders back as far as possible, pulling your shoulder blades together.
- Lower your shoulders down, pressing them toward your hips.
- Bring your shoulders as far forward as possible, keeping your head in neutral.
- Continue slowly circling your shoulders back three to five times, then reverse the move for an additional three to five repetitions.
Hip-Controlled Articular Rotations
- Assume an all-fours posture with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
- Keep your arms straight and your torso as flat as possible throughout the move.
- Slowly extend your left leg directly behind you, keeping your toes pointed downward.
- Turn your foot outward and lift your knee outward to your side (as if getting on a horse).
- Continue circling your thigh, drawing your knee as close as possible to your chest.
- Extend your leg behind you and repeat the move for five to eight repetitions, then perform the move with your opposite leg.
The Science Behind the Stretch
When a muscle feels tight — whether it’s because you’ve charged into a new activity, performed repetitive movement patterns, or settled into sedentary postures — you instinctively stretch it out. This might feel great in the moment, but the effect is usually fleeting. To get the most out of each stretch, it’s important to stay with it long enough to convince your brain and nervous system to release the tension.
Certain structures in your muscles and tendons, including muscle spindles and the Golgi tendon organ (GTO), send signals to adjust course when a muscle stretches too far or too fast, in order to protect the joint from injury. It’s important to hold the stretch for more than about 30 seconds — or move in and out of the stretch position repeatedly — to encourage these structures to release their hold, explains fitness coach and Kinstretch instructor Beth Lewis, FRC.
With practice, proper stretching raises the body’s tolerance for larger ranges of motion, and the effects of stretching become more sustained. But if you stop stretching, the muscles will return to their shortened state. “It’s a use-it-or-lose-it proposition,” says Lewis.
Long, sustained stretches — lasting up to several minutes — may over time elongate muscles and tendons. But short of that, stretching is less a matter of mechanically increasing a muscle’s length, and more about teaching your brain and nervous system that you’re safe at larger joint angles.
“You’re not only stretching tissue,” explains trainer and injury-prevention expert John Rusin, DPT, CSCS, PPSC. “You’re educating your joints.”
Stretching, then, is a form of movement practice that involves all of you: brain, nervous system, and supporting joints — as well as the tissues you’re stretching. Its effects, Rusin cautions, will be significantly reduced if you perform the movements while distracted. “If you’re not focusing and breathing deeply as you perform these stretches, they become almost useless.”
This article originally appeared as “Stretch Your Fitness” in the April 2021 issue of Experience Life.