Stretching before and/or after a workout is fairly common practice. But, should you?
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the question of stretching – and it turns out the issue is complicated. To respond, we have to look at the different types of stretching.
Before your workout
Active stretching. Stretching a muscle by actively contracting the muscle opposite to the one you’re stretching is active stretching. For example, hold your arms out to your sides and contract your back and rear shoulders; this will stretch the pectorals and front shoulders.
Dynamic stretching. This is similar to active stretching but, in dynamic stretching, you don’t hold the stretch. Rather, you are always moving and dynamic, putting your body through a challenging but comfortable range of motion, repeatedly.
Active and dynamic stretching is a good way to warm up for your sport or training session and has shown to improve performance. Dynamic stretching is gaining favor among athletes, coaches, trainers, and physical therapists because of its benefits in improving functional range of motion and mobility in sports and activities of daily living.
After your workout
Static stretching. Static stretching involves holding a muscle at the stretched position to the point of mild discomfort, typically for 20 to 30 seconds.
Passive stretching. This type of stretching uses some sort of assistance to help you achieve a stretch, such as your body weight, a strap, gravity or another person. With passive stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the external force to hold you in place.
For athletes looking to improve range of motion and flexibility, post-workout is the best time to incorporate both static and passive stretching. While you want to stretch while your muscles are still warm, wait a bit after your training session, slow your heart rate down and let your core cool.
Engage your brain before you stretch
Don’t just stretch on autopilot because it is popular to do so. Think about what you want to accomplish before beginning.
Research has confirmed that you’ll get the best results from any stretching effort by performing muscle release with a therapy ball or foam roller beforehand. I strongly urge you to incorporate that practice into your stretching routine – both before and after your training session.