"Should I stretch before or after a workout?" This is an age-old question, and for a while, it was highly debated.
Fitness experts used to argue whether you should stretch before or after a workout, but it didn't stop there either. They also used to argue about which type of stretching was best.
That’s not so much the case anymore.
Stretching has been studied quite a bit at this point, and most experts are on the same page now.
It's still a question many people have though ... and the answer isn't obvious.
Now, being that I’m a huge nerd when it comes to this stuff ... I'll be glad to clear this up for you.
In this article, I'll give you that answer. First though, it's pretty important that you understand why stretching is so important!
Let's talk about it...
Why Is Stretching Important?
I’m sure you have heard plenty of things about how important stretching is, but do you know why it's so important?
The simple answer is ... stretching is a way to improve your flexibility and reduce muscle tightness. This can boost overall performance and reduce the risk of injury .
Tight muscles get injured much more often than flexible ones.
Ever felt like your muscles were so tight to a point where it just didn’t feel normal? Yeah, that’s the opposite of being flexible, and no one likes that feeling.
It’s hard to feel and perform at your best when you feel restricted in any range of motion. Stretching is crucial to combat this.
By stretching, you can increase the resting length of your muscles. Doing this will lower the probability of them becoming uncomfortably tight.
What Are the Benefits of Stretching?
Stretching can provide benefits for your workouts as well as your day-to-day mobility. For workouts, stretching prepares your muscles to move through a full range of motion.
This is important, because if your muscles are cold and tight, and you go straight into intense work, the likelihood of injury is much greater. The type of stretching you do matters as well, but I’ll get to that in a later section.
Another great benefit for static stretching in particular —it causes the release of endorphins.
Endorphins are chemicals in the brain that help to relieve pain and stress. Stretching hurts a little in the moment, but it’s well worth it after.
As for your day-to-day, stretching can help to keep your muscles from becoming too tight. For example, it’s very common for people who sit a lot during the day to deal with tight hip flexors and lower back pain.
Stretching those hip flexors regularly can allow those muscles to be more relaxed. This is a big deal because the majority of low back pain may stem from tight hip flexors.
A regular stretching routine also increases blood flow to your muscles, which aids in recovery ... who doesn’t want that?
But now that you know how important stretching is, let's dive into the different types of stretching you can do...
Types of Stretching
There are multiple types of stretching out there, but we’ll stick to the main 2:
There is also another common type of stretching called ballistic stretching. This has actually been shown to increase the risk of injury though, so I'm going to go ahead and leave it out.
What is Dynamic Stretching?
Dynamic stretching is stretching with movement through a full range of motion.
If you’ve ever played sports, I’m sure you’re familiar with dynamic warm-ups. These are exercises like doing high knees, butt kicks, lunges, and arm circles.
Those are all dynamic stretches, because you’re moving your body instead of standing in one place.
Dynamic stretching is great for priming the muscles for high performance. For this reason, they are best done before your workout, while other stretches may be better for after.
Some forms of stretching can lower the amount of strength and power you have. Not forever, but more-so just for that workout you're about to do.
Dynamic stretching can help to prevent injuries without affecting your performance beforehand.
I’ll cover this in more detail soon, but before we get there, I want to point something out.
Dynamic stretching can be a warm-up, but I still recommend doing an active warm-up before doing your dynamic stretching.
This could be as simple as 5 minutes of jogging or riding an exercise bike. That should be enough to get the blood flowing and increase the temperature in your muscles.
Stretching without warming up can give a false sense of readiness to workout. Cold muscles injure more easily than ones that have been properly warmed up.
I know from experience, and it wasn't a fun experience! With that being said, please NEVER skip the warm-up!
Static stretching is likely the type of stretching you think about when you hear someone say "stretching." Picture doing a quad pull, or bending down and touching your toes to stretch the hamstrings.
This type of stretching is different from dynamic stretching because there's no movement. You just hold the muscle in a stretched position for 15-30 seconds to get the desired stretch .
This is great for improving overall flexibility and muscle length. That alone can make you feel better and less tight in your day-to-day activities.
Static stretching is best utilized after your workout session though, and I’ll tell you why...
During a workout, your muscles are actively creating tension and producing force. This puts them, and the body, in a very active and ready state, which we want while we are training.
Once the workout is over, you want to return to a relaxed state. Static stretching can help you do that.
It helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes you. It does this because that part of your nervous system is the “rest and digest” part.
It will help to calm your body and relax your muscles in addition to the endorphins that get released.
After a workout, that’s exactly what you want!
While many people do static stretching before their workout, it’s not very ideal. It has actually been shown in studies to decrease strength and power when done before training or competing .
It may still benefit you from an injury risk reduction standpoint ... but if you want to maximize performance, I would save it until afterward.
Is It Better to Stretch Before or After a Workout?
That’s the golden question, isn’t it?
The truth is you should make time for both if you want what is best for your body. Both dynamic stretching and static stretching have their own respective benefits.
Ideally, neither should be neglected.
So just to recap and make it simple...
Before your workouts, you should do an active warm-up and dynamic stretches.
After your workouts, you should do static stretches.
Tips for Stretching Safely
No matter when you plan to stretch, there are a few things to keep in mind. These tips will ensure that you don't overstretch or tear your muscles...
Tip #1: Use Proper Techniques
Take the time to research proper stretching techniques to reduce the risk of injury. No matter when you stretch, proper technique makes a significant difference.
If you're doing the stretch wrong ... chances are you may end up doing more harm than good.
Tip #2: Be Gentle
Although you may be tempted to stretch your muscles as far as you can, you should never stretch until it is painful. This likely indicates that you have pushed too far, and can do some damage.
While stretching is supposed to be uncomfortable ... it should definitely not be to the point of pain!
Tip #3: Be Consistent
Stretching one time after an intense workout just won’t offer the benefits that you are looking for.
Instead, you should take a few extra minutes before and after every workout to stretch. That way, you can see the true benefit of stretching regularly over time.
Plus, to maintain these benefits long-term, you have to constantly work at it. Don't expect to become flexible and stay flexible forever without doing anything ... you will lose flexibility if you aren't always working on it.
Need Some Help?
Knowing the right stretches and when to do them is easy for some people, but it can also seem like a foreign language to others. That’s true about fitness and nutrition in general as well.
People want results, but not everyone knows how to get them. That’s where we can help.
We can teach you everything you need to know to get the best results from your training. Really, we can also help you switch up your workouts, find the right diet for you, and give you a platform to track everything too.
This is all done in the 1st Phorm App. Heck, you even get access to your very own advisor inside the app as well!
This is a real in-app personal trainer and nutrition coach to support you every step of the way. You can literally message them any time you want!
Trust me, if you need the accountability or tools to help maximize your results ... you should check it out. Knowledge is power, and we give you that, but we also help push you and hold you accountable to ensure you're progressing toward your end goal!
If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to reach out! We have a full staff of NASM Certified Personal Trainers, Nutrition Coaches, and even some Registered Dietitians. Just send an email to CustomerService@1stphorm.com or give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 anytime. We'll make sure you're on track to earning the best results possible!
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