Many of us were taught to stretch before we
do any kind of exercise. In fact, the best time to stretch depends on the
kind of exercise we’ll be doing. For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to
separate exercise into three categories: strength training that involves
slow, controlled movements; training that involves quick, uncontrolled
movements, and anything else.
For strength training, there’s evidence that stretching before a workout
is counter-productive. Strength training requires muscles to contract
tightly against a heavy weight, and loosening the muscle fibres by
stretching them first reduces their ability to do this. This doesn’t mean
you shouldn’t warm your muscles up before strength training – just avoid
stretching them first. If you want to include stretching in the same
workout as strength training, it’s better to wait until after you’ve
finished your weights work.
For anything involving uncontrolled dynamic movements, however (and this
would include most sports, dance methods and martial arts), stretching
beforehand is important to avoid injury. Just think back to the rubber
For anything that doesn’t fit into either of these categories, you can
probably include your stretching whenever you want to. For example, if
your exercise is walking (and you do a lot of walking, so it’s within your
usual range of motion), you could stretch before, after, during or any
combination of the three.
The important thing about stretching is that it should never be done on
cold muscles. If you’re stretching at the end of a workout, this isn’t
usually a problem, as your muscles will be well and truly warmed up. If
you’re stretching before your workout, however, experts recommend warming
up (doing some kind of light exercise that gets your heart beating faster,
and blood flowing to your muscles) for at least 5-10 minutes before you
begin to stretch.
Stretching used to be considered the main activity before a workout. That
has all changed now. Stretching is still a beneficial activity prior to
working out, but only after you have sufficiently warmed up. The reason
for this is that stretching cold muscles can directly contribute to pulled
and torn muscles. It's also now known that stretching is important after a
workout as well.
There are several effective methods for stretching but some require
partners or are best learned through one-on-one instruction. In many
cases, the more complicated something is, the less you use it. Therefore,
static stretching is often recommended. It is easy to understand and
perform. With static stretching, you lengthen the muscle to where there is
a mild pull and hold without bouncing. In the past, it has been
recommended to hold a static stretch anywhere from 20 seconds. However,
recent research indicates that it is more effective to hold a stretch for
approximately 10 seconds, release, and then repeat the same stretch two to
three times. As the stretch is repeated, the muscle relaxes, and you avoid
overstretching, which can lead to injury. If you experience extreme
discomfort or the muscle quivers uncontrollably during the stretch, back
off a degree or two.
Never start an aggressive stretching program when you are acutely injured.
This could lead to additional damage of the injured area. Allow time for
healing. When there is minimal or no pain, start a light and easy
stretching regime. Stretching is sometimes part of an injury-recovery
program, in which case you should follow the instructions of your sports
Stretching properly may reduce muscle injuries and provides these
benefits: an increase in flexibility and joint range of motion ,correct
exercise posture relaxed muscles and better sports coordination
The purpose of warm-ups includes: keeping muscles supple, increasing
range of motion of joints, enhancing flexibility, improving coordination,
increasing body temperature and heart rate, increasing blood flow to
muscles and preventing injuries.
The right way to stretch is slow and relaxed. Do not bounce. This can
actually cause you to pull the muscle you are trying to stretch.
A recent study showed that a group of runners who stretched three times a
day, and became more flexible, reduced their risk of lower leg injuries by
12% over runners who did minimal stretching. This is one of the few
studies confirming the benefits of stretching.
You should stretch to the point of mild tension. If you overstretch you
will also cause damage. Back off if the stretch feels painful.