Stretching | Should I Stretch Before A Workout?

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

We all know we're supposed to stretch before a run, or gym session. Right? Wrong. Not all of us should. And it depends what you mean by “stretch”.

There are different ways to stretch and they're not all created equal. Some better than others, depending on when you do them. So, it's important to pay attention to our stretch sessions to make the most out of our workouts and fitness routines.

Wonder if you should stretch before a workout? Let's have a look at what kind of stretching should really be included before a workout and what your other options are.

Why Do We Need to Stretch?

Stretching is often an overlooked aspect of general fitness and overall well-being. However, being sure to stretch regularly has many benefits, the main being improved muscle flexibility and range of motion in your joints -- which we'll get into more below.

Other major benefits of a regular stretching routine include:

  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Better sleep
  • Better digestion
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Reduced soreness
  • Prevent joint issues later in life
  • Improved posture

Flexibility vs Range of Motion

Now, back to the main benefits of stretching improving your flexibility and range of motion. But, what's the difference?

In short, flexibility refers to the suppleness of your muscles and range of motion refers to how you're able to move through your joints.

Stretching improves flexibility by making our muscles more supple and by retraining our nervous system to tolerate deeper stretches.

Can you recall that fight or flight feeling that starts to come up when you do a particularly tough stretch?

Doing so regularly (yet safely) reminds our nervous system that we can, in fact, stretch further today than yesterday, calming that fight or flight response.

However, when it comes to flexible muscles, it should be mentioned that too much flexibility can also be detrimental. When our muscles are too flexible, they also become less powerful. So, be sure to cross-train with plenty of strength exercise and stretches.

Stretching regularly also improves the range of motion of our joints. Since the muscles become more flexible through stretching, they're also more able to move through their joints' entire range of motion.

Both are essential to reaching fitness goals and preventing injuries since your body will be a lot more forgiving when it's more flexible and mobile.

Types of Stretching

There are four types of stretching including:

  • Static stretching
  • Dynamic stretching
  • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
  • Ballistic stretching

However, the most common types are static and dynamic stretching. So, that's where we'll begin.

Static Stretching

Static stretching is the kind of stretching where you lean into the stretch and hold its position. Examples of static stretches include:

  • Standing forward folds
  • Butterfly stretch
  • Reclined twists
  • Figure four stretch

Static stretching has been found to be effective for increasing range of motion in a particular joint. So, for activities that require a larger range of motion, like dancing and gymnastics, static stretching is necessary.

The key, however, is to avoid overstretching, meaning you shouldn't hold a stretch for longer than 45 seconds or push further than you need to.

However, if you are about to embark on a strength workout or power sport, like running, basketball, or weight lifting where you need explosive movements, static stretching has been found to significantly reduce performance up to 30 minutes afterwards.

Instead, static stretching is best either after a workout or on its own as part of a separate session.

Here are so more examples of Static Stretching

Source - Redefining Strength


Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching is the kind of stretching where you move the muscle from one end of its range to the other end of its range. Examples of dynamic stretches include:

  • Leg swings
  • Hip circles
  • Bum kicks
  • Easy bodyweight squats

Dynamic stretches are what you might do during a traditional warm-up. They're the best kind of stretches to do before a workout because they help to get your heart rate up while loosening up your muscles.

Instead of doing static stretches before a workout where you run the risk of overstretching and significantly weakening your performance, swap in some dynamic stretches instead.

21 Dynamic Stretching Warm Up Exercises

Source -  Redefining Strength


Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)

PNF refers to holding a stretch while contracting and releasing the muscle to deepen the range of motion. Although this isn't a common form of stretching, it's still effective and safe.

An example of PNF would be doing a reclined hamstring stretch by lying on your back with one leg extended toward the sky. To deepen the stretch, you'd simply activate your hamstrings and then release. You'll notice that every time you release the muscle, you can go a tiny bit further.

Ballistic Stretching

Ballistic stretching or bouncing stretches involves going into a stretch where you'll “bounce” deeper into it. It's another less common form of stretching but it's also not one you should probably try.

Although it might seem natural to bounce and jerk yourself deeper into a stretch, you're risking injury by doing so. Slow and steady is a much better tactic when it comes to stretching.

Check out the below Ballistic Stretching routine below

Source - Tom Merrick

Benefits of Dynamic Stretching Before a Workout

Performing some dynamic stretches as part of your warm-up before a workout has many benefits for your overall health and fitness. Some of these benefits include:

  • Less stiffness
  • More range of motion to complete the workout effectively
  • Increased heart rate
  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Reduced soreness post-workout

Avoid Static Stretching Before a Workout

Especially when it comes to group sports like dancing or gymnastics, it used to be common practice to do some static stretches before your dance class or gymnastics drills.

However, some studies have shown that static stretching should only be done after a workout and being overstretched before strenuous exercise can actually cause more harm than good.

Again, over-stretching causes our muscles to lose power and strength which isn't a great idea just before a workout. We need strong muscles and joints to protect us from injuries so that we can land out of a jump correctly, use proper form while lifting weights, or activate our core to regain lost balance.

That's not to say that static stretching is bad though. Simply do some static stretches at the end of a workout instead.

Set Aside Time to Stretch

While you should always warm-up before a workout and cool-down after one, it's also important to find a separate time to do a full stretching session.

Especially if you're working toward a flexibility goal or you're rehabilitating an injury, setting aside a time to stretch that's neither before nor after a workout can be a game-changer.

Instead of focusing only on strengthening and toning workouts, making time to stretch and work on flexibility is, again, a majorly overlooked aspect of any health and fitness journey. So, make sure you're incorporating some time to stretch in your weekly workout schedule.

Working with a Physiotherapist on Flexibility

To learn more about safe stretches and how you can increase your flexibility and range of motion, working with a physiotherapist is your best bet. Here's what will happen when you meet with a physio.

First, they'll assess your current level of fitness and flexibility by putting you through a series of simple exercises like touching your toes and doing a low lunge.

From there, your physiotherapist will create a custom stretching plan based on your current flexibility levels and your overall goals. You'll also likely be instructed to not only stretch, but also to work on strengthening exercises since strength and flexibility truly work in tandem.

Again, over-stretching and becoming too flexible can actually be detrimental. We need strong muscles and mobility within the joints. So, your physiotherapist will likely take this sort of holistic approach toward improving your flexibility.

If you're suffering from an injury, especially if the injury is chronic, improving your flexibility can be a massive part of your rehabilitation. In such cases, working with a physiotherapist to improve flexibility and range of motion can prove to be invaluable.

At the very least, you'll learn how to safely and effectively perform both dynamic and static stretches that you can bring into your everyday fitness routine on your own. Sometimes, we'll find that we've been doing stretches incorrectly and a physiotherapist can help us to use correct form and better protect us from injury and pain.

Other Useful Resources

It's clear that we each need to tailor our warm-up for the exercise or sport that we're about to do. Remember that we are preparing our bodies for how it's about to work.

To find out more information about our Clinic n & Mobile Physiotherapist services in Australia, please contact us today or find your local Physio Inq Clinic or convenient Mobile Physio Services.

This article was originally written by Tom Hol From Physio Inq Engadine

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