Do you stretch before or after a workout? Do you know what kind of stretching to do? As a rehabilitation physician, I often find people know that they should stretch when they exercise but are confused about when and how to stretch. If you’re wondering the same thing, there are just two main types of stretching you need to know: dynamic stretching and sustained stretching.
Dynamic stretching is what you should do before a workout. It’s when you move your body for a few minutes to warm up your muscles. Some examples include walking, lightly jogging, swinging your arms, and marching in place. It’s important to start with small, gentle movements. The goal is to stay in a position for less than a couple seconds and keep moving. This is safer to do than a sustained stretch before a work-out because your muscles are not warmed up yet. The muscle fibers are more tight and brittle and therefore more prone to getting torn if you bend too far or hold a stretch too long. Instead, if you keep moving from one position to another, you are stretching your muscles dynamically and getting them warmed up and looser without causing injury.
The most important stretching comes after you’ve finished with a workout. Most people skip out on this, but this is a big no-no. After you’ve worked your muscles hard during exercise, the last thing you want to do is go straight to doing nothing with them. What happens is, the muscles tighten up even more, and they will be very sore the next day or even two days later.
Instead, what you should do is the other kind of stretching: sustained stretching. While your muscles are warm from the work-out, this is the perfect time to hold those stretches for more than 5 seconds and stretch the muscles back out. These are called sustained stretches, and this is a great way to cool down and recover from your workout.
You work on strengthening muscles with your workout, but stretching after exercise helps muscles recover faster (so you’re not so sore the next day) and gain flexibility. This increases your range of motion, which keeps you from getting injured. Flexibility is important because it allows your muscles, ligaments, and tendons to stretch rather than break if an accident happens. After a leg workout, stretch out your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. After an upper body workout, stretch out your shoulders, chest, triceps, and forearms. For direction on how to stretch specific muscles, personal trainers and physical therapists are great resources.
Take home points:
- Dynamic stretching to warm up (hold a position only for 2 seconds or less)
- Sustained stretching to cool down (hold a position for 5-30 seconds)