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Should You Stretch Before or After a Workout? (From a Pro)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 26, 2022

This is one question I get from a lot of clients that come to me for fitness training advice.

It always scares me to see people at the gym that don’t do any stretching at all, but it’s important to get to the science behind static and dynamic stretching.

And to find out exactly why stretching should be a priority for all athletes, I teamed up with a physical therapist friend of mine to go through the scientific literature on this topic.

Here’s what we found.

Quick Summary

  • Dynamic stretching is an important part of warming up muscle gently without adding too much strain on ligaments and tendons.
  • Static stretches are a great way to improve your range of motion and target very specific muscles and ligaments.
  • Both types can increase blood flow, and it’s interesting how this impacts the body differently before and after a workout.

Is It Better to Stretch Before or After a Workout?

A woman stretching her upper body

It’s more important to stretch before than after a workout, but I generally recommend that people do both.

The reason I say that pre-workout stretches are more important is that research shows that dynamic stretches help to warm up muscles to prevent muscle tears during training [1].

What I would not recommend is static stretching while your muscles are cold, as this could cause micro-tears that get worse during training [2].

With a static stretch, you get into a position where you then hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds.

This is safe to do with warm muscles after a workout and can help with improving range of motion and muscle recovery [3].

“But when studies have compared rates of injury or muscle soreness in people who stretch before exercise and those who don't, they have found little benefit to stretching. In fact, stretching a cold, tight muscle could lead to injury.”

- William Kormos, M.D., Editor in Chief, Harvard Men's Health Watch.

With a static stretch, you get into a position where you then hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds.

This is safe to do with warm muscles after a workout and can help with improving range of motion and muscle recovery [3].

But let’s take a closer look.

Learn More: Static vs Dynamic Stretching (Which One Should You Do?)

Benefits and Risks of Stretching Before

Partners having a stretching session

To understand the benefits and risks, you have to look at the two types of stretching.

Static Stretching

During a static stretch, you bend your body into a position and then hold it there for a few seconds.

For example, a good calf stretch would be standing in a starting position like a sprinter and shifting your weight over your toes on the front leg.

This stretches muscle fibers, tendons, and ligaments, but it can be risky when your body isn’t warmed up and tight [4].

When it comes to pre-workout stretches, I don’t recommend that you perform static stretching when your muscles are cold.

Dynamic Stretching

A dynamic stretch is very different. This is where you move different body parts in a way that gradually stretches muscles and tendons in a gentle way.

This will also lead to increased blood flow that will warm up your muscles, making it ideal before a workout [5].

Examples of dynamic stretches are:

  • Leg swings
  • Butt kicks
  • Hip circles
  • Arm Circles
  • Walking lunges
  • Jumping jacks

Benefits and Risks of Doing It After

Stretching after a workout

Let’s take a similar look at stretching after workouts.

Static Stretching

While some wellness professionals say that stretching after training has a limited impact on muscle soreness, my personal experience is very positive.

The other thing to keep in mind is that static stretching can help improve your range of motion [6].

And this can help in sports and weight lifting at the gym. I generally pick one or two stretches for each muscle group at the end of each weight training session.

For example, a good quad stretch is to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and then lift one foot up to your buttocks.

Then use your hand to pull the leg back slightly to stretch the quad muscle.

Dynamic Stretching

In my experience, dynamic stretching doesn’t add much, especially after strenuous activity.

Some like to do it to bring their breathing and heart rate down slowly, but you can achieve the same with a few minutes of static poses.

How Long Should You Stretch Each Time?

A woman stretching outdoors

You should stretch for about five minutes each time before and after a workout.

That’s generally a good guide, but no exact science proves this is a good number on how long you should hold a stretch.

It’s also important to note that you don’t want to hold static stretches for too long.

Generally, it’s safe to hold a stretch for up to 45 seconds, but I prefer doing multiple shorter stints [7].

If you’re dealing with muscle injuries and going through physical therapy sessions, then it’s important to follow professional advice on how long to go through stretching routines.

FAQs

Does Stretching Help Warm Up Your Muscles?

Yes, dynamic stretching can help warm up your muscles. It should be part of your pre-gym session routine, and you should make sure that you target all major muscle groups in the process.

Does Stretching After a Workout Prevent Muscle Growth?

No, stretching after a workout won’t prevent muscle growth. It can actually contribute to improved blood circulation and reduced stiffness to speed up muscle recovery.

Take The Right Approach To Stretching

There is a place and time for both dynamic and static stretching for every athlete.

Stick with the dynamic ones as part of your warm-up and prevent injury, and the static ones as part of your cool-down.

Another part of your pre-workout routine should be natural performance-enhancing supplements, many of which we tried and thoroughly tested ourselves, so you can take a look at our guides:

They won’t turn you into The Hulk overnight, but the small increases in performance can add up over the weeks and months ahead.


References:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/how-to-stretch
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/ask-the-doctor-stretching-before-exercise
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1250267/
  4. https://www.cnet.com/health/fitness/the-best-and-worst-stretches-for-you-according-to-fitness-trainers
  5. https://healthyliving.azcentral.com/stretching-blood-flow-through-muscles-13314.html
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886
  7. https://www.hss.edu/article_static_dynamic_stretching.asp

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