Do you do any stretching before or after exercise?
What can you do to prevent injuries and prepare your body for a workout like running or weight lifting?
The general advice is to do some type of warm-up before exercise to prepare the muscles and oxygenate them. So is stretching before exercise a good idea? Let’s find out.
Stretching is not a warm up. Stretching aims to improve muscle flexibility and range of motion. While a warm up is a precursor to exercise, for example a lower intensity version of running or cycling, stretching tends to be static and it may be counterproductive to do before exercise. Most of the studies about stretching have focused on static stretching, but there are various forms of stretching including, for example, dynamic stretching before a workout, when the body performs a number of repetitive movements to condition the muscles. Muscles are like coils or springs: when they contract, they accumulate energy, which is then released when they released. This, in turns, generates movement.
Stretching requires regular practice in order to acquire improved flexibility. Once you stop stretching for a while, you may lose some of the flexibility you have been working towards.
It is generally advised to stretch after exercise, when the muscles are fully oxygenated and warm, so they will lengthen more without strain. Research is pointing out that stretching before exercise may have a negative effect on the muscles, making them contract instead of release and lengthen. Some studies are highlighting that stretching before a workout may even make the muscles weaker. However, if a stretching session before exercise doesn’t last more than a few seconds it shouldn’t impact performance either way. Most likely, stretching before exercise will have a neutral effect and may not help prevent injuries.
Injuries are likely to happen because of lack of training or because the muscles aren’t strong enough. They are also caused by poor technique. Studies so far are not showing a correlation between stretching and preventing soreness after exercise (delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS, which we talked about in our article about marathon running).
The best way to prevent injuries is to build up the intensity of your training session gradually, starting slowly to warm up the muscles and getting them ready to perform. Contrary to what most people do, a good warm up should last at least 10 minutes instead of a few seconds. This will allow a good transition from being sedentary or stationary to being more active.
Stretching after exercise may help prevent injuries as far as allowing the body to cool down after a workout while avoiding jerky movements that can cause trauma to the muscles.
Is there a best time to stretch then? The answer is not that simple, but research seems to show that stretching after exercise is slightly more beneficial. According to the American College of Sports Medicine regular stretching in general is good, particularly in old age.
Another thing to consider about stretching is that you should never feel pain while stretching. If you do, you either have been pushing yourself too much or there might be inflammation or an injury, so it is advisable to see a professional.
Have you considered having a Thai Yoga massage after a workout? This type of massage combines gentle stretching with tissue manipulation for the ultimate rest and recovery treatment. Book your session at Thai Kosai.