If you walk into any CrossFit gym before a class is about to start, you'll likely see athletes sprawled out along the floor, stretching this muscle or that limb. When we start classes, we often do a few more stretches together before getting into a warmup ahead of the WOD. When the workout is done, many people will head straight home, but if you pay attention, you'll see some will stick around to stretch yet again. Those who are most tuned-in to their bodies will stretch yet again before bedtime.
"If there's a really tough workout, the majority of the population want to sit on the couch and relax, but that's not a good idea because your muscles will tighten up and become sore because they're full of inflammation," explains CrossFit Awaken's Chris Brown. "The best thing that you can do is stretch and try to recover from your workouts so that you can heal. Once you heal you can make it into the gym again the next day and continue working towards your goals."
An important thing to note about stretching is that — much like building your strength in weightlifting or mastering a gymnastic move — it is an ongoing process that takes time to improve upon.
With consistency and practice, your muscles will become more accustomed to new positions and your body will become more limber. This can translate to improved performance and faster recovery times.
"Stretching is not guaranteed to avoid injuries altogether but it can certainly help to prevent them in many cases," writes Nuno Costa for Invictus Fitness. "A regular stretching routine can help reduce the risk of injury, help with muscle soreness, help avoid muscle cramping and improve overall athletic performance. "
Roger Harrell, an experienced gymnast and the co-founder of The Cave/CrossFit Marin in Northern California, wrote in the CrossFit Journal about how important it is to regularly stretch your muscles. He says it's better to work on stretching just a bit each day, rather than trying to wait for a moment when you may have an hour or so to stretch.
To improve your flexibility, you should stretch at least once a day, and, if possible, multiple times per day. Short, repeated exposure to stretching is more productive than a single intense or long bout of stretching. For example, it is far better to stretch ten minutes per day, every day, than to stretch 70 minutes once a week.
Also, Harrell notes that "flexibility is not something that automatically comes with strength training. On the contrary, strength training without stretching can lead to dramatic reduction in flexibility. "
So what does this all mean for CrossFitters? In simple terms, stretch however you can, whenever you can, to complement your strength and endurance training. Try to make a habit of it, something you do while watching TV or when you're waiting for the shower to get warm. Whatever works with your hectic life.
To help you, here are some stretches that you can try at home, which we tend to do a lot here at CrossFit Awaken:
This first video walks you through some simple shoulder stretches that will help with your shoulder mobility.
And this video shows you some exercises for stretching out those hips.
You can find many more stretches and mobility exercises on www.mobilitywod.com.