Do You Really Need to Stretch for Exercise?
If you go to any gym, it’s likely to find some people who spend a lot of time static stretching. But do you really need to stretch before you exercise?
Stretching used to be a no-brainer, but more research is emerging that questions if there are any benefits to the average person. Researchers suggest performing stretching pre-workout may not be all it’s cracked up to be — but what about post-workout?
Related - Is Stretching for Old People?
So when it comes to stretching, what is it, should you do it, and when should you do it?
Pre-Workout Static Stretching
A study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research suggests that stretching pre-workout led to more than an 8% decrease in lower-body strength. They measured using a one-rep max barbell back squat.
The researchers suggest that static stretching may change or limit your muscles’ ability to fire efficiently. This is key to lifting heavy weights or performing explosive exercises like sprints and plyometrics.
When stretching, you are lengthening a muscle before you are warming it up. This limits its potential to generate strength and power as you work out. This reduces performance and it can increase the risk of injury.
On the other hand, another recent study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests a pre-workout stretch had no effect — positive or negative — on participants’ sprinting and jumping performance. They also tested change-of-direction tests used in team sports athletes.
Studies suggest instead of static stretching, to perform a series of dynamic bodyweight exercises before you work out. This will increase your joint mobility and improve muscle activation — this helps prime your body for action.
So if you’re getting ready for some lower-body exercises, moves like bodyweight squats, lunges, and planks all help prepare your muscles and joints for work.
Post-Workout Static Stretching
While some studies suggest that static stretching may not be the best for a pre-workout routine, stretching after your workout is beneficial for reducing or preventing muscle soreness — especially if you combine it with foam rolling.
When you stretch a muscle, you want it to be warmed up. After you are done working out, your muscles are tense and shortened after all of the contracting of that muscle during the workout. This is really ideal for foam rolling.
Many things can contribute to muscle soreness — when your muscles are tense and shortened, they won’t get the blood flow they need, the circulation of nutrients, and the removal of waste products are all factors to be aware of.
Foam rolling will help ease those tense muscles which will help relax them. Then, you can better lengthen them with some static stretches.
Dynamic stretching is a little different than static stretching. It is more of an active movement that isn’t about holding a stretch, but you are moving your body so that you are better prepared for your workout. Static stretching, on the other hand, is where you will hold a stretch for an extended period of time.
Your warmup should be focused more on dynamic stretches rather than static stretches.
An ideal warmup would be to have a light aerobic warmup along with some dynamic exercises. If you can, foam rolling before you lift could help prime your muscles. Your warm-up doesn’t need to be long — five minutes with an aerobic exercise and five minutes performing active mobility is plenty.
So Do You Really Need to Stretch?
Researchers suggest to foam roll and then stretch your muscles after your workout. You could roll your worked muscles for 30 seconds before moving into a series of static stretches.
For the stretches, you’ll want to hold each stretch for up to 30 seconds — easing your way into a full stretch.
Don’t force a stretch — your muscles won’t be able to relax and lengthen as they should. You don’t want to risk a pulled or strained muscle, do you?
Wrapping It Up
Experts all agree that a proper warmup and cool down are important for performance. Just like everything, static stretching has a place in your routine just like dynamic mobility work. Stretching after your workout will jump-start the process of calming down your nervous system. So when you stretch, you’re basically sending a message to your brain indicating you want to relax.
Your warm-ups should consist of some aerobic exercise along with some dynamic stretching moves. This ensures your body is primed to lift weights optimally.
Stretching is great on your off-days or when you decide not to exercise. If you wake up in the morning feeling stiff, a few quick stretches can help you get your day going and get your muscles back to their ideal length.
Next time you find yourself sitting in front of the TV, get down on the floor and do some stretches.