When you only have half an hour to squeeze in a workout, it can feel like it’s more important to get your workout in than to bother with stretching before or after. Stretching is just for people who like yoga class, right?
Well, no. Actually stretching our muscles and warming them up before a workout can help to prevent injury, and stretching afterwards can help to eliminate muscle stiffness and soreness.
Stretching Before Exercise
Many of us fit in our exercise first thing in the morning, or perhaps after a long day at the office. When we’ve been in bed for eight hours, or sitting at a desk for about the same amount of time, our muscles will be tight. Working out with tight muscles is a recipe for disaster – and the reason a lot of people end up visiting me! Think about a big ball of blu-tack. If you try to stretch it out, it will snap – you need to warm it up a little first!
Before exercise it is better to do a more dynamic workout – moving the limbs about, rather than holding still stretches. This might include swinging legs and arms a little to start with, and building up to incorporate a full range of motion. If you are a runner you will want to concentrate your warm-up stretches on your legs and hips, so you might include hip circles and walking lunges to really get your legs warm and activate the muscles you will be using during your run. If you’re lifting weights you will want to warm up your whole body to ensure there are no nasty surprises when you go to pick up that dumbbell. Moving around during your warm-up has the added benefit of providing a cardio warm-up so that you are really ready to go when you begin.
It is important that your warm up is dynamic rather than static. Holding stretches before a workout encourages the muscle to stretch and be more flexible
Research shows that as well as helping to prevent injury, stretching before exercise can help to improve performance. Whatever you are doing, your body needs to warm up first so if you don’t warm up before you begin your sports match, the first part of your match will be wasted on your body getting used to the movement.
Stretching After Exercise
Yes, as well as warming up before you exercise, you also need to make time to stretch afterwards. After exercise is when we focus more on static stretches where we might hold a stretch for several seconds. This promotes flexibility of the muscles and joints, and can really help you to avoid that tell-tale ache the next day.
As with pre-workout stretching, it is important to stretch the muscles you have been using the most. But there is also a benefit to stretching all of your muscles after a workout. Many of us find that when we exercise we tense muscles that aren’t ordinarily used for that particular exercise. For example you might find that you tense your shoulders when running. It is worth putting together a routine of stretching that incorporates the whole body, including the back, which you perform after every workout, and even on your rest days.
Stretching is an important component of any training plan, and something that is often overlooked. It is always worth shortening your workout by a few minutes to ensure you allow adequate time for stretching both before and after you exercise. This can help to ensure you are flexible and able to move freely, and perhaps even less prone to injury.