Maybe you think stretching is just an extra thing and not really necessary. Maybe you think that a little light stretching is all you need. Perhaps you are militant about your stretching. No matter your thoughts or your philosophy about stretching, it turns out that when and how you do it can be the difference maker when it comes to achieving your fitness goals.
Stretching before a workout is crucial when it comes to preventing injuries. This is especially true if you exercise first thing in the morning or if your a sedentary during the course of your day. Your muscles are going to be tight, says Noam Tamir, certified trainer and founder of TS Fitness. One study on the subject has shown that stretching 15 minutes before a workout can help you avoid injury.
“It’s best to do a dynamic warm-up before exercise,” Tamir says. This type of stretching mimics the movements of your workout. Runners, for example, will often perform dynamic stretches like hip circles, walking lunges, and butt kicks to activate the muscle groups used in running. And because they are constantly moving when doing these warm ups, they are also helping their cardio warm up.
Dynamic stretching will not only decrease your injury risk, it can also improve your athletic performance. One study found that college wrestlers who completed a dynamic warm-up for four weeks saw improvements in strength, endurance, agility, and anaerboic capacity. There is also research that dynamic stretching improves muscle performance and power output when compared with static stretching (stretches that see you remaining stationary and holding for up to 30 seconds).
The Problem With Holding
The idea of doing a little workout before your actual workout makes most of us feel exhausted. So many of us resort to doing a few little half assed toe tugs at the end of a workout and think we're good to go. Static stretches like these focus more on relaxing the muscle and promoting flexibility than dynamic stretching, Tamir says, and can be good to add to the end of your gym session.
Having said that, there is some research out there that questions the benefit of static stretching before a workout. There is one study that found that people who did static stretches before doing a barbell squat reported feeling off balance and lifted less weight. Another found that soccer players who had done static stretching before running a 30 meter sprint had slower times than the players who did not stretch before the sprint.
Want to know what's worse? It seems that perhaps stretching won't do a thing to help with muscle soreness. In a review of 12 studies, researchers found that pre- or post-exercise stretching didn’t stop aches and pains.
The Bottom Line
Your best bet is to do some dynamic stretches before your workout. Avoid static stretches before a workout. But keep in mind that static stretches may be helpful if you are someone who spends a lot of time sitting a desk. Consider loosening up your hamstrings, hip flexors, shoulders, and back muscles with static stretches after your workouts a few times a week. If you still have doubts, talk to a certified trainer in order to sort out what will work best for you and your fitness level and fitness goals.
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