You’ve probably heard A LOT of contradictory information about stretching. Most commonly, you’ve probably heard to stretch before every workout to prevent injuries. Another source may have told you that stretching doesn’t do anything to prevent injuries, and might actually hurt your performance. Yet someone else might have said that stretches for post-workout are the only necessary stretches. What is the truth about stretches pre and post-workout?
What the Science Says About Pre-Workout Stretching
Many of us grew up with gym teachers and coaches telling us to stretch before a workout. This usually included static stretching or holding a stretch for a length of time (usually 30 seconds to one minute). However, research into pre-workout stretching found almost no evidence that it prevents injuries or reduces soreness. Does this mean that pre-workout stretching is totally bunk and you should jump into a workout without any warmup?
Nope. Static stretching before a workout may be useful when your activity requires a high degree of flexibility. For most exercisers, however, pre-workout static stretching may not be necessary.
Instead, you should focus on a gentle warmup that can include dynamic stretching, which means moving through stretches gently and slowly. This kind of warmup is important for a lot of people, as most of us spend our day sitting. Whether it’s hours in a car or at a desk, during that time our muscles are deactivated and shortened, making specific areas especially tight and prone to injury if not properly warmed up. Adding a warmup to your workout will help to gently loosen your muscles, get your heart rate up, and generally prepare your body for the primary workout.
A good warmup may include a walk or jog around the block, 20 lunges, shoulder swings, 10 pushups, and a short round of high-knees and butt-kickers. Your warmup should also include activating the areas of your body you plan to hit during your workout.
What About Post-Workout Stretching?
Just because pre-workout stretching doesn’t prevent injuries, doesn’t mean stretching is pointless. In fact, many personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts believe that regular stretching helps to improve your overall health. Harvard Medical School writes, “Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain range of motion in joints.”
While you can stretch at any time during the day, post-workout stretching can be an especially good option to help maintain flexibility and range of motion. As physical therapist Lynn Millar explains in an article for WebMD, “Everyone is more flexible after exercise, because you’ve increased the circulation to those muscles and joints and you’ve been moving them.”
Another reason to consider post-workout stretching is all about hacking your brain. Oftentimes, we know we should implement healthy habits in our lives, but it can be hard to find time for them unless we add them to another activity. If you’ve already developed a habit of exercising several times a week, add a few static or dynamic stretches to the end of your routine. In this way, you’ll “hitch” the habit of stretching onto your existing workout routine.
What Should Your Post-Exercise Routine Look Like?
To help your body power down from your workouts, begin by building a cool-down routine that includes stretching. First, finish your workout with a gentle and dynamic cooldown. That might include a few laps of walking the track, slow cycling, or an easy row. The idea is that you want to bring your heart rate down slowly instead of suddenly dropping activity after the last rep of your workout.
Once your breathing is under control and your pulse isn’t jackhammering, add in some dynamic or static stretches (see our full list below). Finally, finish your cooldown routine by rolling out your muscles with a foam roller. It may be a little painful for sore or tight muscles, but rolling out is a great way to stimulate blood flow, release muscle knots, and massage the muscle to assist in recovery after your workout.
What Stretches for Post Workout Should You Do?
If you have the time and patience, we encourage you to stretch all your major muscle groups, but if you need to speed things up, focus on the muscles you exercised during your workout and any muscles that feel perpetually tight or sore. For example, many people who sit for long periods have tight hamstrings, lower backs, hip flexors, and groins.
Here is a short list of our favorite stretches. Many of these can be performed as static or dynamic stretches.
From a sitting position, straighten your legs in front of you. Reach forward and try to touch your toes. This stretch will help increase the flexibility of tight hamstrings and low back. You can also do this from a standing position.
From a standing position, bend one leg up behind you and hold your foot. Gently pull your leg back until you feel a nice stretch along your quad.
This is great for super tight hip flexors. Start on bended knee like you’re about to propose. Push back your leg so it is as straight as possible. Arch your back gently and gently push forward and down into the leg that is stretched behind you. You should feel this in your hip and glutes. Switch sides and do both legs.
This is also an excellent stretch for tight hips. Sitting on the floor, open your legs and bring the soles of your feet together. Gently bend forward while trying to keep your knees down. This is a wonderful stretch for your adductors, or inner thighs, which are notoriously tight. You’ll also get a nice stretch in your lower back.
Start on your back with your straight arms out, like a T (or a cross). Lift up one leg and cross it over your body, rotating your hip and lower back. Try to get your toe to touch the floor while keeping your other leg stationary. Enjoy a glorious stretch in your lower back and the side of your glute, and don’t be surprised if you hear a few gentle pops in your lower back. Switch sides and perform with the other leg.
6.Figure Four Stretch
This one is tricky to describe, so you may want to find an image. Start on your back. Bend one knee and bring the leg up, then cross your other leg in front of it so that the side of your foot is resting on your thigh, near the knee. Reach through your legs to grip the thigh of your back leg and gently pull it toward you. You should feel a stretch in your hip and glute.
Start with your hands and feet on the ground. Keep your shoulders and wrists aligned and gently push one heel toward the floor at a time. If you don’t feel a stretch in your calf, position your legs farther out.
This should be familiar if you’ve taken a yoga class. Start by sitting on your knees and then bend forward, putting your arms in front of you. This relaxing pose will help stretch the muscles in your lower and upper back, as well as your shoulders.
9.Seated Shoulder Squeeze
From a sitting position, bring your arms behind you. Clasp your hands together and push your chest out. This is a wonderful stretch for your chest and shoulders and is a great idea after pushups, pull-ups, or bench press.
Bring one arm in front of your body in an L shape. Hook the other arm under and around, so that the palms of your hands touch (or nearly). Use the hooked arm to push up and out. Avoid leaning backwards or forwards. You should feel a nice stretch in the shoulder and lat (upper back). Switch arms and repeat.
Raise one arm overhead, then bend your elbow so that your hand is now pointing toward or even touching your shoulder. Place the other hand on your elbow and gently push it backward. You should feel the stretch in the triceps (back of the arm). Switch arms and repeat.
12.Seated Neck Stretch
If you have a long commute or spend a lot of time looking at a screen, chances are you’ve got a tight neck. In a seated position, bring one arm up and over your head, placing your hand on the other side of your head. Gently pull your head down toward your shoulder. Enjoy a wonderful stretch down the side of your neck. Repeat with the other arm and gently pull your head to the other side.
Stretches Pre and Post Workout Complete Your Fitness Routine
Stretching may feel like an extra chore but adding the right type of warmup and cooldown to each workout can help your body feel better and increase your flexibility over time. Post workout is a great time to add stretching to your routine, especially in combination with a complete cooldown.
Not sure where to start or worry that you won’t be able to stick with a stretching routine? Then consider signing up for a yoga class or other stretching classes at your local gym. At EōS Fitness, we offer a variety of different classes with a focus on stretching, like EōS Yoga, Power Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa “Flow” Yoga, and more.
Want even more great workout tips? Keep reading our informative fitness blog.