Stretching: The Basics of What to Do and When

When it comes to stretching, there’s a lot of misconception. Some people say that you should never stretch before you train while others swear by it. Some say that static stretching produces the best results while others are hell-bent on dynamic stretching.

However, the consensus is that stretching is important and the benefits are clear. Here, we’re talking about all things stretching, what to do, and when to do it.

Why Is Stretching Important?

Stretching is imperative for increasing mobility and flexibility. It allows the joints to complete their full range of motion and it creates more supple muscle structure.

Also, certain activities require different levels of flexibility. For example, a gymnast’s focus on hamstring flexibility will be different than that of a cyclist.

Most experts recommend stretching at least two times a week. Some of the additional benefits of stretching regularly include: 

  • Improved posture
  • Better range of motion
  • Pain relief 

How to Stretch Properly 

So, now that we know how beneficial stretching is, what’s the proper way to go about it? Does holding a stretch for long periods give you the most benefit? Can bouncing in a stretch cause you to pull a muscle? Could you hurt yourself if you skip stretching before a workout?

The short answer to all of these questions is no, but to help clarify, let’s go over the different kinds of stretching.

Static Stretching 

The word static means unchanging. That means you push your muscles to an uncomfortable point and hold it there for at least thirty seconds. 

Dynamic Stretching 

Dynamic stretching, as the name implies, involve movement. You perform gentle movements like arm swings or plies which stretch the muscles by gradually increasing their range of motion.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching 

Common in methods like Pilates, PNF stretching aims to increase range of motion by holding a position while contracting and relaxing the muscles. The idea is that you’ll get a deeper stretch as the muscle relaxes. 

Ballistic Stretching 

Otherwise known as bouncing stretches, this type is used to increase range of motion by bouncing or jerking into it.

When to Stretch 

Sure, it’s great to know the different kinds of stretching you can do, but when do you do them? As always, everyone is different and will respond differently to different kinds of stretching but, here are the basics. 

Pre-Workout Stretches 

Before you exercise or go for a run, dynamic stretches are the best way to go. Especially if you workout first thing in the morning or you’ve been sedentary for most of the day. They help mobilize your joints, warm up your muscles, and prep your body for the exercise you’re about to do.

The stretches you pick should be specific to your workout. If you’re doing a lower body workout, you could do some bodyweight squats, lunges, or walkouts to warm up. If you’re going to do an upper body workout, arm circles and torso rotations are a good start. Doing a full body workout? Do a mix of both upper and lower body stretches.

The goal is to move your body while you stretch so you’re not only preparing your muscles and joints but you’re getting your heart rate up and more blood flow. Not only will dynamic stretching before a workout help prevent injuries, but it also usually leads to better performance as well.

Static stretching, on the other hand, is a terrible idea pre-workout. Your muscles are cold, stiff, and with limited blood flow. Forcing a static stretch is more likely to make you feel weaker and perform worse.

Stretches to Do After You Train 

After you’re sweaty and quite frankly exhausted, it’s tempting to get out of the gym and into the shower as quickly as possible, but a simple five-minute cool down with some static stretches can do wonders for your body.

Static stretching focuses on relaxing the muscle which is exactly what they’ll want after a full session of contracting. You won’t necessarily be less sore the next day, but you’ll notice your body can do more for you when you add a stretch session after your workout.

PNF stretching and ballistic stretching are more goal-oriented and used by athletes like gymnasts or dancers to reach flexibility goals that help with their craft.

Are you excited to start stretching? Give it a try. Warm up before you hit the dumbbells and cool down by at least touching your toes. Watch your body, mobility, and flexibility change before your eyes.

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