Most of us were taught from a young age that not stretching before or after exercise is equivalent to committing a terrible sin. The belief is that if you skip your stretching exercise, your workout will be worse overall, and you’ll be more likely to get injured or become sore.
But is science supporting this wise advice? And is stretching truly necessary before and after each exercise? Dr. Samantha Smith, an Assistant Professor of Clinical Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation at Yale School of Medicine, responded, “The simplest way to answer that question would be no.”
But the lengthier response, according to experts, is that it depends on the kind of exercise you’re performing and your fitness objectives.
You don’t need to stretch before performing an exercise that doesn’t require a wide range of motion, like jogging for a few miles at a moderate speed, according to David Behm, a research professor of sports science at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada. (There are several sorts of stretching, but for this narrative, we’re talking about static stretching, in which you remain still while lengthening a muscle.)
In this situation, a quick warm-up that includes dynamic exercises like lunges, squats, butt kicks, and high knees would be sufficient to get your body ready.
The majority of research also indicates that static stretching has little effect on – or may even impede – your performance during strength and power training, despite some contradictory findings. (To improve both speed and strength, power training requires practicing movements like jumps or explosive lifts.)
According to Dr. Behm, activities that include heavy liftings, such as squats and bench presses, will extend muscles similarly to stretching. So warming up with stretches before a lifting session won’t help you perform better. Additionally, stretching might significantly exhaust your muscles and tendons, so doing so before exercises like squats, for example, may make your workout less effective.
According to Eduardo De Souza, an associate professor of health sciences and human performance at the University of Tampa, the best preparation for exercise involves two steps. First, you should warm up by doing some light exercise, such as light jogging, jumping rope, or cycling. “And then you do a rehearsal of the movements for what comes next.”
This involves dynamic exercises that stretch your muscles over their whole range of activities, such as arm circles or thin walking lunges.
Stretching is frequently done following an exercise because many people believe it can speed up healing and reduce pain, according to Dr. Behm. However, Dr. Smith noted that “the literature is very mixed on that.” For instance, “there have been studies that have shown a positive benefit and studies that have shown no benefit” when it comes to stretching after weightlifting to reduce muscular soreness. Researchers also found no proof that static stretching after exercise improved recovery in a 2021 review. Even yet, Dr. Smith hasn’t come across any proof that stretching as part of a cool down after exercise is bad for you.
Stretching, foam rolling or walking are all effective ways to properly cool down after an exercise, according to Dr. De Souza. However, he continued, there isn’t enough data to say which cool-down technique will help you recover from an exercise the fastest.
How often one should stretch?
Dr. Smith advised stretching different muscle groups for 30 to 60 seconds each day if you wanted to increase your flexibility or mobility. It may also be advantageous in ways you didn’t even understand.
People don’t frequently see stretching for flexibility as a distinct form of exercise or activity, but adding a separate stretching practice to your weekly workout schedule can help you achieve your flexibility goals, according to Dr. Smith.