When to Stretch and How Much?

Stretch as my Warm Up?

Anytime you’re about to work out, you should always start with a warm up! A warm up CAN include stretching, however, when stretching during a warm up, the stretching is dynamic, active stretching. This means you are moving with the stretch and stretching BIG. Stretching during a warm up can include walking lunges with a hold at the bottom to open your hips, arm circles, walking hip circles, walking leg raises and many other big, active stretches. When warming up it is also important to include some compound movements such as; push ups, body weight squats, lunges, light weight or body weight shoulder presses, etc. This will help your body loosen up with a light load before getting into some heavy lifting, as well as activate the muscles before applying a heavy load.

Stretching while working out?

Stretching while working out can be beneficial to some but damaging to others. At this point your muscles are already very loose, you’ve finished your workout and already got a couple sets in of your first exercise. Some people when stretching at this point, will actually injure themselves because they’re much more flexible when the muscle are this loose and warm. Others, however prefer to stretch in-between sets because they feel their body stiffen up after the set they finish. If you want to stretch during a workout, I would save the stretching for when you are following a strength program. Strength programs are very demanding on the body as they are compound movements with a heavy load. (Compound movement is a movement that requires many muscles activated to perform) For example, after a heavy set of 3-5 squats, you may notice your hips feel very tight and want to loosen them up, A LITTLE before your next set. Listen to your body and do not try to go too deep into the stretch. Gentle stretching is best during a workout.

I’m done my workout, time to go home!

Wrong! Please, do not leave after your workout until you have finished stretching. Stretching will not only help you feel better the day after the workout (lessen your DOMS- delayed onset muscle soreness) but it will help you in your compound movements the next time you workout. If you were to take time to stretch after every workout, you would notice an increase in your flexibility. If you are more flexible, you will move through a greater range of motion (ROM) Stretching after a workout also helps to increase blood flow and break down lactic acid which will leave you feeling less sore the day after a workout. This does not mean it will make you lose your gains, you still worked just as hard and if you were lifting weights and tearing up your muscles, they will grow; regardless if you stretch or not. So why not stretch? If stretching allows you to keep your gains without being as sore, as well as helps you increase your range of motion so that you can squat deeper, why wouldn’t you? Take the extra 5-10 minutes at the end of your workout and do your body the favor of stretching. Before stretching make sure to perform a light cool down, this can include walking 2-5 minutes on the treadmill or walk around the gym to a stretching area.

I personally recommend to save static stretching (not moving, ie, pigeon stretch or standing quadriceps stretch) for after your workout and active, dynamic stretching before. During your workout is up to your discretion, although I would recommend to not stretch during a workout unless you are very aware of your body and know how deep to stretch. Happy stretching, everyone!

References:
DU VALL, JEREMY; Trainer Q&A: Do I need to stretch after my workouts? (2012) http://www.mensfitness.com/training/pro-tips/are-deadlifts-and-squats-mandatory

ABBOTT, GYLES; 10 Reasons It’s Important to Stretch After a Workout (2016) Bidvine https://www.bidvine.com/articles/stretch-after-workout-pro-post/

PERRY, MARC; Try This Full Body Dynamic Stretch to Prepare for any Workout (2013) Greatist https://greatist.com/fitness/full-body-dynamic-warm-up

HEWETT, JOSH; Importance and Dangers of Stretching: The Long and Short of it (2008) Body Building https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/stretching_types.htm

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