Yes, stretching can help you lose weight - start with these 5 options

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Sounds a lot better than hours of cardio, right?

If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s easy to do exercises 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 sole focus. Strength training and rest also play important roles in losing weight in a healthy way. And you know what else it does? Stretching.

Many people don’t think that stretching contributes to weight loss, but there are several ways to do just that. Here, trainers explain exactly how and give five simple stretches to work into your routine.

Related: Want to lose weight? Here are 16 really doable ways to do it quickly and safely.

How is stretching connected to weight loss?

“The reason stretching is so important in the weight loss journey is the simple fact that stretching will keep your joints and muscles from aching. Good,” it says Cobi Hopkins, CPT, a personal trainer and corporate director of training and exercise for StretchU, a full-body assisted stretching company offering individual assisted stretching. “If your body is feeling good, you’ll be much more motivated to exercise and stick to 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 push yourself every day. But doing so does not allow the body to recover properly. And when you don’t feel your best, you’re more likely to give up on your workout goals altogether. “While there are many factors that contribute to calorie-burning efficiency, having strong, happy muscles can play a big part in this,” medical exercise expert Melissa McGuire, MES, it says. “Your muscles are happy when they have good flexibility and a healthy range of motion in all joints.”

Related: 12 Trainers Share Their Favorite Weight Loss Exercises—And Yes, Walking Counts!

In addition to keeping your body feeling good, both trainers say that stretching can help with muscle growth. “When we lift weights, we destroy muscle. To really build muscle, we need to recover from that exercise, and stretching helps enhance that process,” says Hopkins.

He adds that consistent stretching will allow someone to move through their workouts with a greater range of motion. “If you can lift the same weight with a greater range of motion over time, it will lead to more muscle growth,” he says.

Related: How Much Weight Can You Really Lose in a Week? Experts explain and give their best tips to do it safely

Different types of stretching to work into your routine

McGuire and Hopkins explain that there are different types of stretching that 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 stretching is like when you’re holding the hardest part of a yoga pose,” says McGuire. “Some of the muscles are training to relax, but the opposing muscles are contracting.” She explains that the benefit of this is that the stretched muscles loosen up, which increases the range of motion in the joint. In addition, the supporting muscles also get stronger. “It’s a win for strength and flexibility, which helps keep the body in balance,” says McGuire.

  • Dynamic-active stretching: McGuire explains that dynamic active stretching is movement oriented. For example, doing 10 reps of deep squats. This type of stretching, she says, lengthens the muscles and loosens them up.

  • Passive stretching: Passive stretching, explains McGuire, is when you hold a stretch. “Your muscles will eventually relax, but you don’t have to force yourself to contract anything,” she says. While McGuire says passive stretching is the least effective for weight loss, she says it’s still beneficial for helping muscles recover from active exercise.

  • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF): “The PNF is the stretch where you go through a series of contractions and releases to increase your range of motion over time,” Hopkins says, adding that it can be great before or after a workout. This type of stretching “tricks” the nervous system into resisting pressure, which helps the muscles relax so you get a deeper stretch.

5 stretches to incorporate into your routine

McGuire recommends doing some light stretching every day. It can be especially beneficial to stretch before and after your workout. “Typically, we recommend dynamic stretching before exercise and [passive] stretching afterwards,” says Hopkins. “Dynamic stretching is great for lubricating the joints and getting the blood flowing. [Passive] stretching involves holding a stretch for 30 to 60 seconds while focusing on long, deep breaths, which is great for recovery from intense exercise.

Here are five stretches to try, linked to the different types of stretching that trainers say can help with weight loss:

1. Plank posture

Holding a plank is an example of an active isometric stretch, which, as McGuire says, increases strength and flexibility. To do a plank, place your hands directly under your shoulders while placing your toes on the floor a few inches apart. Hold the position for 20 seconds, gradually working up to a minute if you can.

2. Walking Advances

Walking lunges 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. Bring the left leg forward to meet the right leg. Now, step forward with your left leg and move into a lunge position. Repeat doing 10 lunges per leg.

3. High kicks

This is another example of dynamic active stretching. To do high kicks, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise one straight leg as high as you can. Reach for your toes with the opposite hand, keeping your neck and back straight. Lower the leg and repeat with the other leg. Do 10 high kicks per leg.

4. Runner’s Charge

For a passive stretch, try a runner’s lunge by starting standing and stepping 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 and then switch, bringing the opposite leg forward.

5. Hamstring Stretch

A hamstring stretch is a common PNF stretch. Lie down on the floor with one foot on the floor. Stretch the other leg towards the ceiling while wrapping both arms around the thigh. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat with the other leg.

Below, experts share 13 reasons why people struggle to lose weight.

Origins

  • Cobi Hopkins, CPT, personal trainer and corporate director of training and exercise at StretchU

  • Melissa McGuire, MES, medical exercise specialist

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