Stretching improves muscle flexibility and helps to maintain range of motion in your joints. It also lowers your risk of injuries, such as joint and muscle strain. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), healthy adults should do flexibility exercises, such as stretching, yoga or tai chi, for all major muscle groups at least two to three times a week.
While there is no question about the benefits of regular flexibility exercises, there’s still some debate about whether you should stretch before or after a workout.
The answer? Both.
But it’s the type of stretching you do before or after exercise that matters. Dynamic stretching (moving quickly through positions) is ideal to perform before exercising, as it will increase body temperature and circulation, get your heart rate up and prepare your muscles for exercise. Static stretching (holding a stretch for 30-60 seconds) is best for cooling down after your workout. Static stretching helps to lengthen your muscles after exercise and can help decrease post-exercise soreness.
Pre-exercise warm up
Incorporate dynamic stretching as part of your warm up before your workout. A pre-exercise warm up might include a brisk walk, walking lunges, leg swings, high knees, walking toe touches and butt kicks. Start slowly, gradually increasing the intensity of the moves.
After your workout, your body is more flexible because your muscles are nice and warm and your joints are mobile. Immediately after your workout, cool down with a brisk walk, allowing your heart rate to return to normal before you stop to stretch. Here are some of the most common static stretches:
Hamstring stretch. Sitting on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you, gently lean forward from the hips until you feel a stretch in the backs of your thighs. This stretch may also be done with one leg out at a time.
Calf stretch. From a standing position, step forward with one foot and lift your toes off the ground while putting your weight on your back leg.
Hip flexor stretch. Standing on one foot, pull your other foot to your buttock, keeping your knee pointed at the ground and your hip square. If you feel unstable, hold onto the back of a chair, a table or a wall for balance.
Lower back stretch. Sitting with your legs out in front of you, cross one leg over the other and place that foot flat on the ground near your other knee. If your left leg is crossed over the right, twist your torso to the left and vice versa.
Regular flexibility exercises will help to increase joint range of motion and prevent injury to the joint or muscle. If you have questions about how to stretch, get help from a professional fitness trainer. As with any exercise, it is important that you practice proper stretching mechanics to avoid injury.