Yes, stretching can help you lose weight—start with these 5 options
Sounds a lot better than hours of cardio, right?
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s easy to perfect workouts that burn as many calories as possible. For many people, that means cardio, cardio, cardio. While it’s true that cardio can help burn calories and contribute to weight loss, trainers say it would be a mistake to make it your only focus. Strength training and rest also play an important role in losing weight in a healthy way. And do you know what else he does? Strain.
Many people don’t think that stretching contributes to weight loss, but there are several ways in which it does just that. Here, trainers explain exactly how and give five simple stretches to fit into your routine.
How does stretching relate to weight loss?
“The reason why stretching is so important in one’s weight loss journey is the simple fact that stretching will maintain the feeling in the joints and muscles good“, he says Cobi Hopkins, CPT, personal trainer and corporate director of training and exercise at StretchU, a full-body assisted stretching company that provides one-on-one assisted stretching. “If your body feels good, you’ll be much more motivated to exercise and keep up with your program,” he adds.
This makes perfect sense when you think about it. It can be tempting to jump into a new exercise routine and work hard every day. But this does not allow the body to recover properly. And when you’re not feeling well, you’re more likely to give up on your exercise goals altogether. “While there are many factors that contribute to how efficient you are at burning calories, strong and happy muscles can play a major role,” exercise medicine expert Melissa McGuire, MES, he says. “Your muscles are happy when they feel good flexibility and a healthy range of motion in each joint.”
In addition to keeping the body in good shape, both trainers say that stretching can help with muscle growth. “When we lift weights, we tear muscles. To actually build muscle, we need to recover from that exercise, and stretching helps improve that process,” says Hopkins.
He adds that consistent stretching will allow someone to move through their exercises with a greater range of motion. “If you can lift the same weight with a greater range of motion over time, that will lead to more muscle growth,” he says.
Different types of stretching for your routine
McGuire and Hopkins explain that there are different types of stretching, which have slightly different benefits: isometric-active stretching, dynamic active stretching, passive stretching, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, which are explained in more detail below:
Isometric-active stretching: “This type of stretch is like holding the heaviest part of a yoga pose,” says McGuire. “Some muscles are trained to relax, but the opposite muscles tighten up.” He explains that the benefit of this is that the stretched muscles relax, which increases the range of motion in the joint. In addition, the postural muscles also become stronger. “It’s a win for both strength and flexibility, which helps keep the body balanced,” says McGuire.
Dynamic-active stretching: McGuire explains that dynamic active stretching focuses on movement. For example, do 10 deep reps squats. This type of stretching, she says, stretches the muscles and relaxes them.
Passive stretching: Passive stretching, McGuire explains, is when you hold the stretch. “Your muscles will eventually relax, but you don’t have to work to tighten anything,” she says. While McGuire says passive stretching is the least effective for weight loss, she says it’s still useful for helping muscles recover from active workouts.
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF): “PNF is a stretch where you go through a series of contractions and releases to increase your range of motion over time,” says Hopkins, adding that it can be great before or after a workout. This type of stretch “tricks” the nervous system by resisting pressure, which helps relax the muscles to get a deeper stretch.
5 stretches you can incorporate into your routine
McGuire recommends gentle stretching every day. Stretching before and after exercise can be especially useful. “We usually recommend dynamic stretching before exercise and [passive] stretching afterwards,” says Hopkins. “Dynamic stretching is great for lubricating the joints and getting the blood moving. [Passive] stretching involves holding the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds while focusing on taking long, deep breaths, which is great for recovering from intense exercise.”
Here are five stretches you can try, related to the different types of stretches that trainers say can help you lose weight:
1. Plank pose
The plank is an example of an isometric active stretch that, McGuire says, builds strength and flexibility. To do a plank, place your hands directly under your shoulders and place your toes on the ground, a few inches apart. Hold the position for 20 seconds, gradually increasing to one minute if you are able.
2. Walking strides
Walking strides are dynamic active stretching. Start in a standing position. Step forward with your right leg, bending your knee to 90 degrees. Pause in the lunge position for a few seconds. Extend your left leg forward to your right leg. Now step your left foot forward and take a lunge. Repeat doing 10 lunges per leg.
3. High kicks
This is another example of dynamic active stretching. To perform high kicks, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise one leg straight as high as you can. Reach for your toes with your opposite hand, and keep your neck and back straight. Lower the leg back and repeat with the other leg. Do 10 high kicks per leg.
4. Running lunge
For a passive stretch, try a running lunge by starting in a standing position and stepping one leg behind you. Keep the other leg bent at 90 degrees. Place your hands on either side of your front foot. Hold for a few breaths, then switch, bringing the opposite leg forward.
5. Stretching of the hamstrings
The hamstring stretch is a common PNF stretch. Lie on the floor with one foot on the ground. Extend the other leg towards the ceiling while wrapping both hands around the thigh. Hold for 20 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.