We all grew up being taught to stretch before exercising, whether in gym class or ballet class or football practice. Stretching is a great way to improve flexibility and range of motion, but modern research is finding more and more that the type of stretching we’re more familiar with, static stretching, does not prevent injury in any significant way like many of us previously believed and can actually be harmful to our bodies by making us weaker when it comes to doing the exercises we’re preparing to do.
Over the past few years, there have been alternate solutions offered to combat this new information, including shortening pre-workout stretching time and ditching pre-workout stretching altogether.
Despite what researchers have found, it didn’t sit right with many athletes that stretching was a concept to be discarded. It just makes sense to warm up your body before vigorous exercise.
As it turns out, everybody has good points, we just needed more information. There are actually two types of stretching: static and dynamic. Static stretching is what we’re more used to, where we hold a position for 30 seconds or so before changing to a new position with the goal of improving flexibility. Dynamic stretching is, perhaps, the answer we’ve been looking for for pre-workout stretching: it focuses on constant, repetitive movement and is great for warming up your muscles and preparing them for the range of movement you’ll need for the exercise ahead.
So to be clear, here are some elements of each type of stretching you should know:
- If you need to stretch before and during workouts and athletic activities, you should do dynamic stretching, not static. Dynamic stretching keeps your muscles warm while static stretching relaxes and cools you down. Have some good dynamic stretches on hand for keeping your muscles warm between sets at the gym.
- The type of dynamic stretching you should do depends on the exercise you’re getting ready to do: good dynamic stretches should mimic the movements you’ll be using in your workout. For example, if you’re getting ready for a run, you may want to try high kicks and walking lunges.
- Dynamic stretches are usually repetitive motions in constant movement. Start out easy with a smaller range of motion and work your way up to full range of motion. Go from lower intensity to higher intensity.
- Dynamic stretching is great for loosening up connective tissue and getting blood moving, which will prepare your body for the strains of the workout ahead. You will especially want to loosen up any tight muscles you may have first to prevent injury.
- Don’t go overboard with dynamic stretching; you should keep it short and simple, otherwise you may overstretch and weaken your workout. 6-12 minutes should be a sufficient amount of time for it.
- Static stretching is meant to be done after a workout or during non-workout times, like first thing in the morning or perhaps while you’re sitting at your desk at the office. Static stretching is not recommended for before or during a workout because it can destabilize your joints and even reduce muscle strength.
- When doing a static stretch, go straight to the point of slight tension and hold it for at least 30 seconds, until you feel the tension going away.
- With regular static stretching, you will see improved flexibility which provides many happy benefits including reduced stress, better balance and posture, and continued independence as you age.
- Stretching thoroughly after every workout releases muscle tension developed during the workout and helps prevent injury.
- In addition to all of the above long-term benefits, static stretching is a great way to relax and release toxins, thus facilitating not only physical but mental recovery as well.
Research on the topic of dynamic versus static stretching is still pretty new and the changes in results are pretty minimal, so if you swear by a certain type of stretching regardless of when you do it and it has been working well for you, there is probably no reason to discard your method. You’re in control of your own body and you know what feels good for you. However, if you’ve been in a quandary about how to stretch before and after your workouts, this research could be just what you were looking for. Why not try dynamic stretching before exercise and static stretching afterward, and see if it improves your performance? Just remember, don’t overdo anything and always listen to your body.