People are often asking about stretching. When should I stretch? Should I stretch before or after I workout? When people say stretch though, they are often referring to a static stretch in which you are holding a position for a period of time, such as your classic hamstring or calf stretch. You see it everywhere. People statically stretching before a run or playing a sport, thinking it’ll help them “loosen up”. However, there is another type of stretching which should be performed beforehand called dynamic stretching.
Yes, static stretching can be good and helpful, but there is a time for it. When you wake up first thing in the morning or before a workout after sitting at work all day, your muscles are stiff and cold, and to suddenly hold a stretch for a period of time can actually cause more harm than good. Think about holding an uncooked noodle in both hands and trying to bend it. It may bend a bit, but most likely it will snap. After you cook it though and it’s warmed up, it’ll be a softer more pliable noodle than you can bend. This is when dynamic stretching comes into play. Dynamic stretching is when you are stretching with movement actively through a controlled manner. Some examples are high knees, butt kicks, leg swings, jumping jacks, arm swings, and arm circles. This is what should be done before a workout or sport. Even some biking and light jogging can be used as a dynamic warm up. Doing a dynamic stretch will get the blood flowing to the muscles and warmed up while stretching them out so you can feel “loosened up” before you perform your work out. This will actually help with your performance and strength, as research has shown that static stretches before a sport decrease performance and can result in higher likelihood of injury. Spending a few minutes before a work out to do some dynamic stretches and workouts will help you maintain flexibility without hurting your strength.
So when should static stretching be done? Static stretching is great to do after a workout to help cool your body down and help prevent some of the soreness you may feel the next day from an intense workout. If you feel like you must do it before you exercise, you can do it after you dynamically stretch and warmup. There are still benefits to static stretching as it will still help you increase flexibility to muscles that are tight. It is just a matter of when you do it. So the next time you want to stretch before exercising or after sitting all day at work, try some dynamic stretches instead.