Whether you’re a casual exerciser or an elite athlete, stretching pre-workout just feels good. But, are you doing more harm than good?
This is a controversial and confusing question even for veterans in the fitness industry. That’s because the jury is still out and the research is inconclusive.
We’ve all been taught that stretching is important to improve flexibility, enabling our joints to move through range of motion; thus preventing injury and muscle soreness.
Stretching before physical activity
Some research has indicated that stretching before your workout or activity does not prevent injuries and can actually decrease the power in your muscles. In other words, it can actually weaken your muscles. Other scientists feel it could be somewhat beneficial if the correct stretches are incorporated into your pre-exercise routine. For example, flexibility stretches such as reaching for the sky and light twists may enhance your mood and performance.
The case for a good warm-up
Many people, including myself, stretch major muscles after a good warm up of 5-10 minutes. A warm up is essential in preparing your body and mind for the physical activity to come. That’s because a warm up raises your heart rate, increases circulation, and literally warms your muscle fibers. Simply begin all physical activity with a walk. This can start out slowly and then build up to a brisk walk or a light jog. Follow this up with joint rotations for all joint segments—ankle, shoulder and wrist rotations and bending/extending knees and elbows.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: Warm up for 5-10 minutes. If anything feels particularly tight, like your hip flexors, hamstrings or calves, stop, and stretch them.
The bottom line on stretching
The one thing that all experts agree on is that you should stretch after your workouts. It’s the safest and most productive route because the muscles are warm and pliable and it’s unlikely that you’ll hurt yourself. Benefits include lengthening tight muscles, an increase in circulation, injury prevention, and the removal waste from your system
Here are a few simple tips to remember about stretching:
1. Hold a stretch for 20–30 seconds or for a total of three deep breaths.
2. Inhale to prepare for the stretch and exhale slowly to the count of three while lengthening the muscle.
3. Never lock a joint when stretching; i.e., always keep a slight bend to your knee when performing a hamstring stretch.