Working out is challenging enough; we know this. Finding time, motivation, gear, and a viable method to the madness of staying fit is not exactly an easy task. Everyone operates on their system, time clocks, and lifestyle. Not to mention, we all do so with our respective bodily systems. What works well for one person may be the wrong method altogether for another.
Why Examine Your Stretching?
One aspect of what makes working out challenging is the reality that no matter what you choose to do to stay fit, you surrender to the simple hope that it will work. Because results are not instant, that’s the most we can do, hope that it’s going to work efficiently. We can find ways to attempt measuring, like seeing how we feel before, during, or after exercise. But, that’s not the same as knowing for a fact that what you’re doing is the best choice for you.
Stretching Before or After
With this in mind, we pose the question. Is it better to stretch before or after a workout? Without context, stretching is regarded as a somewhat elementary aspect of working out and training the body. It’s a quick precaution, a “best” practice action that many of us take because we were taught to at some point.
You might have picked up the habit in physical education class growing up, saw someone doing it at the gym, or have taken a yoga class or two to find that it can go far past touching your toes. The key is, there are various reasons to stretch, all of which are valid, and probably useful.
But if you’re not doing it for physical therapy, or finding flow on a yoga mat—how can you be sure the stretching you do is right for you? If it’s being done in conjunction with working out, it’s probably safe to assume that it’s to optimize muscle ability and avoiding injury.
Hold on a Minute—or Should You? Understanding the Mechanics of Stretching
With these components in question, the argument of timing comes into play. When is the optimal moment to stretch? First, let’s shed some insight into the different types of stretching.
Dynamic stretch: Functional, full-range of motion stretching that mimics movements. These are often used as warm-ups.
Static stretch: Holding a stretch at the max range of motion without movement.
These two types of stretches serve different purposes but are both widely used in exercise settings.
Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
Static stretching is the kind of stretching that most people are used to. It’s all about holding that stretch for however many seconds as you exert the greatest effort you’ve got to do it. For many years, this type of stretching has been recognized as a preliminary course of action.
After all, what’s the harm in stretching the muscles before working out? Research suggests that static stretching before a work out may decrease performance. Does this mean it should be avoided, however? Not necessarily.
Dynamic stretching engages multiple muscle groups at once, and with them, connective tissue and ligaments that support the muscles. Additionally, it helps to increase body temperature and physically warm the body. Unanimously, the nature of what dynamic stretching involves makes it ideal for performing before a workout.
However, according to the Strength and Conditioning Journal, there is evidence to support that dynamic stretching is also beneficial to muscle recovery. The turning feature of this research is that it was specifically compared to static stretching.
The Real Question
So, we can draw that the importance of stretching is constant. While different methods of working out need their own type of muscle activation, it’s also conclusive that stretching before and after a workout have their respective benefits. It may even be safe to say that taking a moment or two to stretch throughout certain workouts is wise. I suppose the real question is, what kind to do, and when?
Well, if your goal is to use stretching as an asset and supportive action to working out, research says you can’t go wrong with dynamic stretching. However, if the goal is to drive yourself to increase flexibility, and by extension, athletic performance—static stretching may serve you well if performed apart from exercise.