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Stretching: Before or After your Workout?

There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding this question. There also seems to be a lot of opinion being stated as fact. So what is the answer? Most will agree that stretching is a vital part of any fitness regimen and that the benefits to range of motion and injury prevention can have a drastic and noticeable effect on how we perform a given task. Now, however, more and more studies are being done on the effects of pre versus post exercise stretching, and the verdict thus far is that the edge goes to post exercise.

To start, stretching a cold muscle by means of a static stretch (one where you hold a position at the end of your range of motion) has the chance to not only strain the muscle but possibly cause small tears to it. Additionally it has been shown that doing this decreases the muscles ability to perform work, meaning you lift less than you would if you did not stretch. Even stretching out the muscle during your workout can lead to less performance on subsequent sets. Many suggest massaging the area rather than stretching during the workout. However stretching the muscle out at the end of the workout has been shown help increase muscle growth! Give another point to post exercise stretching.

So what about running? All of us are probably guilty of trying to stretch out our hamstrings before we take off. What if we told you that this actually decreases running performance as well and requires that you exert more energy to run at the same pace as if you had not stretched? Crazy right? But that is what some studies show

Now it should be noted that warming up is beneficial in all forms of working out, but this should exclude static stretching. Try instead some dynamic movements instead. For running, this can include skips, walking high knees, glute kicks and the like. This will help you to avoid cramps but not stretch those important muscles too far. For weight lifting try slowly warming up to your working weight, meaning don’t just jump to your max, but rather take several sets to get the blood really pumping into that muscle. If time won’t let you warm up that way do 5-10 minutes on the treadmill to warm your body up.

Remember, stretching is needed and can be greatly beneficial when done properly, but just like any exercise you have to train smart to make sure you get the most out of each workout.