Is It Better to Stretch Before or After Exercise?

Wednesday, Jul. 11, 2018

Should you stretch before or after sports or exercise? As physiotherapists, we hear this question all the time! To answer this question, first we need to understand the two main types of stretching techniques:

  • Static stretching is a muscle lengthening technique in which you hold a stretch for 30-60 seconds for 1-4 repetitions.
  • Dynamic stretching is lengthening your muscles while moving; in other words, 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 point of stretching?

When stretching, we are trying to achieve an increase in muscle length, flexibility, blood flow in order to improve performance, decrease pain, and reduce the risk of injury. We are trying to warm-up the body to prevent injury and improve power. Looking at the current research evidence, we can determine if stretching is helpful and what kind of stretching is best for different activities.

The Effects of Static Stretching

Static stretches help to lengthen muscles, tendons, increase joint flexibility, and increase range of motion. Flexibility is key for certain athletes, such as a goalie in hockey, gymnast, and wrestler, who would all benefit from this type of warm-up routine as they need to achieve maximal end ranges of joints. The negative effects of holding a stretch before athletic activity is that you generate less force due to the reduction of muscle tension that helps create power.

Considering your activity, there is more reason to do static stretching after sports or exercise as you will be able to lengthen muscles and reduce tension better with a warm body.

The Effects of Dynamic Stretching

Lengthening muscles through end range movements without holding gets your blood flowing and increases power, flexibility, and joint range of motion prior to sports and exercise. Dynamic stretching has been found to be superior to static stretching when it comes to maximizing power from your muscles. Sports that focus on running and jumping would benefit most from this type of stretching as your muscles maintain some tension.

So, should you stretch before or after activity?

Based on current research, warm-ups should include aerobic activity, dynamic stretching, and sport-specific dynamic exercises. Cool downs should include low-impact aerobic activity and static stretching.

Take into consideration the type of sport or activity you are doing, as power needs tension while end ranges need flexibility to guide the type of stretching you want to do. If you need help with stretching techniques, or if you’ve injured your muscles, book an appointment with a Lifemark physiotherapist to get you at your best for whatever athletic endeavors you pursue!