You know squats are good for you, and you certainly know that stretching is good for you and your squats.
But what kind of stretches should you do? There is a lot of conflicting information nowadays about when to stretch, how to do it, which ones to do, or for how long. Might just be easier to skip it altogether, no?
Thankfully, this isn’t rocket science, but it helps to know what the research says.
Stretching Before or After a Workout
The old-school research of 20+ years ago told us that stretching before a training session could help reduce the risk of strain or injury. This is likely why all of our grade school gym teachers made us run a mile and do some random stretches before playing kickball. The latest research, however, claims that static stretching before a workout is detrimental to performance, speed, and strength, and should wait until after the session.
I think that both camps are correct to some degree. If you warm-up, do your mobility work before training and still feel stiff and tight, then a stretch before the workout might actually benefit you. If everything feels good while you warm up, move on and save the stretches for afterward.
The goal is always to find what works best for you. Here are four types of stretches you’re more likely to use.
Static: The traditional stretch we know and love. This involves holding a position like a hamstring or quad stretch for a period of time, usually 30 seconds or more, depending on the goal.
Passive: This is where someone else puts you into a stretch and holds the tension while the rest of you is completely relaxed. Stretch Zone or physical therapists do this well for us, and some trainers do this for clients at the end of the workout.
Dynamic: This stretch involves controlled movement like doing deep squats with rotation, windmills, or scapular push-ups, and often appears in the warm-up routine. This is one you’ll use the most.
Ballistic: This stretch involves using momentum, like the kind you might see with maritial artists, dancers, and sprint athletes. It’s unlikely that you’ll need this as an average lifter or gym goer, but it’s available to you depending on your training goals and the workout of the day.
The Warm-up Roadmap
When someone asks me what they should focus on – foam rolling, stretching, or mobility trianing – I say “Do it all, only better.” Too often we spend a lot of time on one thing (stretching), and too little time on the thing we may need most. This is why with my online personalized 1:1 clients I make it a point to program a warm-up routine that the person needs for the purpose of the day’s training. We make the warm-up efficient so you an maximize the training session in less time.
Here’s a sample scenario to help you put this into practice:
You’ve been sitting at the office the past 9 hours of the day, then you sit in your car for another 15-minute commute to the gym. This is your routine 5-days a week. Today in particular, your training plan includes barbell squats and lots of lower body and core accessory work. What’s the most efficient warm-up given this scenario?
- Soft tissue work, with extra emphasis around the calves/ankles, quads, spine, and glutes
- Five to eight dynamic stretches & mobility work that will carry over to that day’s workout like: banded clamshells, deep goblet squats with rotation, adductor rockbacks, book openers, monster walks, and RKC planks
- Static stretches based on where you’re still feeling stiffness after doing the above. You may also want to counter the 9 hours of sitting at work with a calf stretch, quad stretch, and hip flexor stretch. Hold each for 30-seconds tops!
Will those static stretches drastically reduce your performance? No way! The science shows that holding a static stretch for a short duration (30-45secs) is the sweet spot and won’t hinder performance.
My Go-To Stretches and Drills Before Squatting
With this warm-up roadmap in mind, here are my top dynamic and static stretches to include before squatting so you can move better and feel your best during the workout!
Pilates Shoulder Bridge
Goal: Glute activation, hamstring stretch, pelvic stability
I use this exercise a lot for many reasons. One, I get the benefit of glute activation in the bridge position. Two, controlling the leg as it reaches up and down stretches my hamstring while enforcing pelvic stability, core stability, and hip disassociation. Third, I get the extra benefit of ankle dorsiflexion and plantar flexion by point and flexing my foot as I go up and down. This is an ideal progression from your basic glute bridge and ideal for most fitness levels.
Quad and Psoas Stretch & Rockback
Goal: Deep quad and hip flexor stretch, release psoas from stiffness and tightness, release low back tension
I tend to use this drill before squatting or in between squats, depending on how stiff I’m feeling. You can choose either and complete it for about 8 to 10 rockbacks per side.
Psoas Quad Stretch
Goal: More intense quad and posas release. Perfect after a long day of sitting.
If your hips or quads are really stiff during squatting, this deep stretch goes a long way in helping release additional tension. Because of its intensity and how challenging it can be to prop the back leg up for some, I use this with clients who’ve been with me for a while. Anyone who sits a lot will benefit from this stretch.
Goal: Hip mobility, stretches adductors and groin
Coach Mike Reinold does a great job of explaining this one, and I love using this with all my clients. While we’re quick to stretch our hips and quads as much as possible, we forget that the inner thighs and groin are also impacted by long periods of sitting. When the adductors stiffen, it can lead to knee, hip, and groin pain and many times I can find instant relief in those joints simply by doing this drill. It’s beginner friendly and ideal for every body
Pilates Side Kick Kneeling
Goals: Shoulder stability, pelvic control, opens up the hips and activates the glutes
This exercise is useful for those that have a little bit of hip flexibility already and want to keep improving on that. The top picture is your ideal start position. Not everyone can get their leg to hip height which is fine. Without rocking your torso back and forth,s weep the leg forward with control and then sweep it back. The action of the kick is part hip flexion and extension and does a nice job of strengthening and lengthening the hip. Not suitable for beginners but intermediate and advanced trainees can benefit from this.