From runners to weight lifters, we all can agree it's hard to exercise with stiff, tight muscles. Without it, we may leave ourselves open to injury, which is why stretching is often common practice before a workout... but do you really need to stretch before a workout or run?
What's the point of stretching? Does it help?
Stretching is important throughout sport, helping to improve flexibility, which increases the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion. Range of motion is more important in some sports than others, like gymnastics, so will require more flexibility than others. You may think of stretching as something performed only by runners or gymnasts, but in fact we all need to stretch in order to protect our mobility and independence.
Stretching keeps our muscles flexible, strong, and healthy! Without regular stretching, our muscles may feel stiff and weak when called upon during exercise. Without it, the muscles will shorten, causing strains, joint pain and even muscle damage. When tight muscles are used explosively or strenuously during fast or powerful exercises or workouts, muscles may become damaged from suddenly being stretched.
So to answer the question - Is stretching good for you? Yes! There are many benefits to regular stretching and is an important factor of fitness, but it can also improve your posture, reduce stress and body aches, and more.
Should you stretch before you exercise?
By now we know that regular stretching is needed, although the question still remains, is stretching before a workout or run a good idea?
Yes! Stretching is crucial before exercise to improve our performance and to prevent injury. This is especially true if you live an otherwise sedentary life (working in an office) or your muscles are tight from previous workouts.
The more important question here may be the type of stretching we choose to do before our exercise.
What type of stretching should be done before a workout?
There are many types of stretching, but the most well known, and ones you may have heard of, are static and dynamic stretching.
A static stretch is stretching a muscle for 20-30 seconds or more in a static position, often to the point of mild discomfort. Static stretching, although good for mobility, can decrease neural stimulation - not ideal just before exercise.
Dynamic stretching is often used pre-exercise to stimulate your nervous system and muscles to be better prepared for the upcoming fast activity. This involves performing gentle repetitive movements, such as body weight squats, where the idea is to gradually increase the range of motion of the muscle. The movement is usually specific to the exercise or sport that you're going to play and should not cause any discomfort.
Examples for a runner could include high need runs/bounces or boxers doing a couple of standing torso and shoulder twists while working on their footwork and punches.
It is now widely suggested, and supported by numerous research, that best practice includes a dynamic warm-up before exercise, with no static stretching involved. Dynamic stretches act to mimic muscle shortening and lengthening during exercise, in their active movements. Many studies claim that static stretching is perhaps bad before exercise, actually hindering performance, reduce your athletic capabilities.
Is static stretching bad?
Don’t be put off by the above, static stretching is still extremely useful and needed. Static stretching should be performed after a workout, enhancing relaxation. If you have an area that still feels tight, a quick cool down stretching routine may be needed.
Static stretching in your cool down can help promote muscle recovery as well as get you ready for your next workout by reducing stiffness and tightness.
So When's the best time to stretch? Regular static stretching outside periods of exercise may increase power and speed, and reduce injury. The best time to stretch is when the muscles are warm and pliable. This could be during a yoga or pilates class, or just after exercising.