Once upon a time, stretching was the norm before a workout. Usually this involved a lot of toe-touching, perhaps a foot propped up and a bend forward for the hamstrings, and an occasional calf stretch. No bouncing!
Then, research showed these types of “static” stretches were ineffective at improving athletic performance and reducing post-exercise muscle soreness.
So, stretching shifted to a post-workout activity. The idea was to stretch the muscles once they had been given the proper chance to warm up. With the shift to stretching as an after-workout activity, many gym-goers stopped stretching altogether.
Today, fitness professionals have settled on a few guidelines, supported by ongoing research. And, the answer to the question, “Should I take the time to stretch?” is a resounding “YES.” That is, yes to stretching, pre- and post-workout.
“The primary difference is in the types of stretches you do, and when to do them,” says Gina Ryan, program manager at Wellmark’s Well for Life Center. Ryan recommends two main types of stretching: dynamic (for pre-workout) and static (for post-workout).
Two main types of stretching
This stretching gently engages muscles pre-workout, and prepares them for more demanding movements. It usually involves controlled movement of the arms and legs that gently takes them to the limits of their range of motion. Over time, dynamic stretching can improve body awareness and enhance workout performance.
“Dynamic stretches are a better choice before your workout,” says Ryan. “In fact, I think of dynamic stretches as preparation for the movements you’ll be doing in your workout, but at a lower intensity.”
The types of stretches you’re doing really depend on your goals, says Ryan. “Someone who is jogging will have a different warm up than someone who is strength training.”
For example, a good warm-up before a jog could be a brisk walk, a few walking lunges, high steps, or butt kicks (slowly jogging forward while kicking toward your rear end),” says Ryan.
“The dynamic stretches don’t need to take up a lot of time,” says Ryan, who recommends spending 5–10 minutes warming up before a workout.
Get started! Try out these 5 dynamic stretches to try before you workout.
Static stretching is what many of us would consider “traditional” stretching. This involves stretching a specific body part to its farthest position and then holding it for 15 to 30 seconds, with no bouncing or rapid movements. These types of stretches have a mild, painless, pulling sensation, and are primarily used to lengthen the muscles, relieve tension and relax the body post-workout.
“When you stretch, you lengthen your muscles, or allow your muscles to have some ‘give’, says Ryan. “You also give your joints a greater range of mobility. Stretching helps make every day activities easier, prevents injuries and helps make your muscles longer, leaner and stronger.”
What if you don't have time to stretch?
“Even if it’s a minute or two, a little stretching is better than nothing at all,” says Ryan. “You’ll just feel better overall, and be better prepared for your next workout.”
If you need to release some extra tension, consider taking a few moments with a foam roller. While it can be uncomfortable at the time, foam rollers help release knots, trigger points, and inflammation of muscles.