Should you stretch before or after sports or exercise? As physiotherapists, we hear this question all the time. To answer it, we first need to look at the two main types of stretching techniques:
- Static stretching is a muscle lengthening technique in which you hold a stretch for 30 to 60 seconds for 1 to 4 repetitions
- Dynamic stretching is lengthening your muscles while moving. In other words, you're not holding a stretch position.
Performance in exercise and sports can increase or decrease depending on which method of stretching is used and what activity you are involved in.
What is the goal of stretching?
The goal of stretching is to increase muscle length, flexibility and blood flow in order to improve performance, decrease pain and reduce the risk of injury. You are trying to warm up your body to prevent injury and improve performance. Current research tells us stretching is helpful, but that different activities require different types of stretching.
The benefits of static stretching
Static stretches help lengthen muscles and tendons and increase joint flexibility and range of motion. Flexibility is key for various athletes, such as hockey goalies, gymnasts and wrestlers, who would all benefit from this type of warm up routine as they need to achieve maximal end ranges of joints. Holding a stretch before an athletic activity allows means you generate less force due to the reduction of muscle tension that helps create power.
It could be a good idea to perform static stretches after sports or exercise as you will be able to lengthen muscles and reduce tension better with a warm body.
The benefits of dynamic stretching
Lengthening muscles through end range movements without holding a stretch gets your blood flowing and increases your power, flexibility and joint range of motion before sports or exercise. Dynamic stretching has been found to be superior to static stretching when it comes to maximizing power from your muscles. Athletes involved in sports that focus on running and jumping would benefit the most from this type of stretching as your muscles will maintain some tension.
So, should you stretch before or after activity?
Based on current research, your warm ups should include aerobic activity, dynamic stretching, and sport-specific dynamic exercises. Your cool downs should include low-impact aerobic activity and static stretching.
To guide your stretches, take into consideration the demands of the sport or activity you are doing, as power needs tension while end ranges need flexibility. If you need help with stretching techniques or if you’ve injured your muscles, check out our Locations page to find a Lifemark clinic near you or book online to schedule an appointment.