Should we Stretch Before or After Exercise?
It’s one of those hotly debated questions isn’t it; what came first, the chicken or the egg? Is the dress blue and black or gold and white? Is it better to stretch before or after exercise?
I will leave you to discuss the first two amongst yourselves, but the latter I want to take a look at more closely. Unsurprisingly, as a personal trainer based in Didsbury, I spend much of my day at the gym and notice the habits and routines of our regulars. There are those who would not dream of beginning their workout without having completed a series of stretches, whilst others swear by a post-exercise stretching session - and then there are a few who skip stretching altogether. What does science say then, which is most beneficial to our bodies? Let’s find out…
The Argument for Pre-Exercise Stretching
If you stand in the before workout stretching camp, you will probably hold the belief that stretching will enhance your abilities during the workout itself and prevent injury. Since stretching also helps with posture, stretching before a workout could help the body to hold itself correctly and is supported during the exercise.
The Argument for Post-Exercise Stretching
The post-exercise stretchers argue that by stretching out the muscles before they are warmed up can do more harm than good. Once the muscles have been used, they are more pliable and increasing flexibility is easier. The post-exercise stretch is also a good opportunity to allow your breathing and heart rate to normalise to resting state.
What the Experts Say?
So we have had a look at what “we the people” say, but what about the experts? There seems to be a general consensus not only on when to stretch, but the type of stretching that we should be doing.
Before beginning our workout we should not be doing stretching per say, but a warm-up is absolutely essential. Static stretching, for example by sitting and holding a stretch for 30 seconds, will not enhance the workout that follows, nor will it impact your chances of injury or recovery rate. In fact, research suggests that static stretching before exercise, while maybe making us feel looser, can actually make muscles weaker and slower. Instead, dynamic stretching should be incorporated into our warm-up. Typically, a warm-up should take around 10 minutes. Warm-ups gradually increase the blood flow to the muscles which in turn have more oxygen and more energy. Dynamic stretching involves gentle repetitive movements and should not cause the slight discomfort that feeling during static stretching. Think swinging of the arms and legs or lunging.
Stretching after working out tends to be the favourite with the ones who do the research. If you want to improve your flexibility or a particular range of movement, during a post-workout stretch is the time to do it. Like the warm-up, doing a cool-down is really important. By immediately stopping exercise, the blood flow to the muscles is reduced too quickly and you’ll experience a build-up of lactic acid and probably a light head too – and nobody wants to be known as the fainter! Static stretching can easily be incorporated into the cool down, and is certainly something I do with my personal training clients.
If you are unsure of what exercise you should be doing, or what is involved in warm-ups and cool-downs, booking a session with a personal trainer will give you the support and guidance you need. Get in touch today to find out more!