Why You Should Stretch Before a Workout
Benefits of Stretching
When people talk about the benefits of exercise, they often mention losing weight, building muscle, and strengthening their hearts. One key benefit of exercise is often neglected: improving flexibility. Along with not talking about flexibility, many people forget one thing that can help improve it: stretching.
Stretching has many benefits, making it something worth adding to your daily routine, whether you plan on working out that day or not.
How Stretching Can Help You
Stretching can help you feel better in many ways, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE)1. Among the things stretching can do for you include:
- Increase your range of motion: When you stretch, you help to improve the range of motion of the joint near the area you're stretching. Increasing range of motion can prevent you from overextending yourself during a workout or when going about your daily activities.
- Lower the risk of injury: With an increased range of motion, there is less of a chance that you'll throw your body out of joint or pull a muscle when exercising.
- Improve your performance: As you build up your flexibility, your body begins to require less energy to make certain movements. You're likely to find that you're able to work out harder and longer or that your performance on the field or court improves.
- Reduce soreness after a workout: It's important to stretch before you exercise and immediately afterward, too. Stretching as part of your post-workout cool-down helps the muscles stay loose and flexible, meaning you're less sore and achy the next day.
- Improve blood flow: The act of stretching helps the blood flow more freely through the body, meaning that your muscles are more likely to get the oxygen and nutrients they need.
- Reduce tension and stress: When you're stressed out, you most likely hold some tension in some of your muscles. Well-stretched, flexible muscles are less likely to be tense and stiff, which can help you feel less tense and stressed overall.
How to Create a Stretching Routine
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends performing stretching exercises at least twice a week and performing each stretch for at least one minute. You can split a stretch up into several parts. For example, you can fold forward to touch your toes and hold the pose for 15 seconds, then repeat the move three more times, for a total of 60 seconds.
As you build your stretching routine, it's often most helpful to focus on stretching the muscle groups associated with movements, such as your leg muscles: the calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Stretching the shoulders, hips and low back is also a good idea. If you are completely new to stretching, or if you've been injured recently, consider working with a physical therapist, who can help you develop a routine of stretches that will best benefit you.
When to Stretch
Should you stretch before a workout or after? Or, is it best to stretch both before and after your workout? Usually, it's a good idea to do some stretching before you start your workout and to stretch afterward when the muscles are still warm.
Try not to stretch when your muscles are "cold," though. It's usually best to warm them up somewhat, by running in place for a few minutes, before you begin to stretch. The stretches you do at the start of a workout might be a bit different from ones you do at the end. As you warm up, try doing lunges and arm circles to improve your range of motion.
At the end of the workout, focus on stretches that help your muscles relax and retain their flexibility, such as touching your toes or sitting and bending forward. Try to hold a stretch for 30 seconds.
Be Careful When Stretching
Although stretching can be beneficial, it is possible to hurt yourself while you stretch, if you don't have the right form or technique. When you stretch, try to make the move as smooth as possible. It's a myth that bouncing the muscle helps to improve the stretch.
It's also a myth that pain is good when you stretch. Whether you're getting into a lunge, leaning forward to touch your toes, or tilting backward to stretch your back, don't push yourself so far over that you feel pain. A bit of tension is good, pain isn't.
As with any exercise routine, it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor or physical therapist before you start stretching. They can help you develop a routine that works for you or can recommend stretches that target the muscle groups you're focusing on.
1. Top 10 Benefits of Stretching, American Council on Exercise, https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/5107/top-10-benefits-of-stretching/
2. The Ideal Stretching Routine, Harvard Health Publishing, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-ideal-stretching-routine
3. A Road Map to Effective Muscle Recovery, ACSM, https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/a-road-map-to-effective-muscle-recovery.pdf?sfvrsn=a4f24f46_2