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

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: December 28, 2023
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As a seasoned fitness trainer, I often encounter this question from clients: Should I stretch before or after a workout?

It's a crucial query, as I've witnessed many gym-goers skip stretching altogether, unaware of its significance.

I've collaborated with a physical therapist to delve into the latest research. Together, we've uncovered compelling insights about both dynamic and static stretching and their roles in enhancing athletic performance.

Let's explore what we discovered and how it can transform your workout routine.

Quick Summary

  • To optimize workout performance, it's recommended to engage in dynamic stretching before exercising and static stretching afterwards.
  • Dynamic stretching is ideal for warming up muscles pre-workout, while static stretching post-workout aids in improving range of motion.
  •  A study from the National Library of Medicine says that each stretch should be held for 15-30 seconds and repeated 2 to 4 times.
  • As a fitness trainer, I've observed that incorporating both stretching types significantly enhances overall workout quality and reduces

Is It Better to Stretch Before or After a Workout?

A woman stretching her upper body

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

According to WebMD, dynamic stretching before a workout may help warm up your muscles and prevent muscle tears during training [1].

What I wouldn't recommend is static stretching while your muscles are cold, as research from Harvard suggests that this could cause micro-tears that get worse during training [2].

“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.

So, what's the difference between static and dynamic stretching?

Let's take a closer look.

Learn More:

Static vs. Dynamic Stretching

Partners having a stretching session

To better understand how stretching benefits your workout, let's take a quick look at the two types of stretching.

What Is Static Stretching?

Static stretching is a type of stretching exercise where you stretch a muscle (or group of muscles) to its farthest point and then hold that position for a period of time, typically between 15–60 seconds.

For example, a static calf stretch involves standing in a starting position like a sprinter and shifting your weight over your toes on the front leg so you feel a deep stretch in your calf muscle.

When it comes to pre-workout stretches, I don’t recommend that you perform static stretching when your muscles are cold. We'll get more into this later.

What Is Dynamic Stretching?

Dynamic stretching is a form of stretching that involves movement and muscular effort to stretch and prepare the muscles for activity.

Unlike static stretching, where you hold a position for a period of time, dynamic stretching involves active movements that mimic the activity or sport you are about to perform

These stretches lead to increased blood flow that will warm up your muscles, making them ideal before a workout [4].

Examples of dynamic stretches include:

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

Benefits and Risks of Stretching

Stretching after a workout

When telling my clients the importance of stretching, I also highlight the risks involved.

So, let's take a look at the benefits of stretching and ways to avoid stretching-related injuries.

Static Stretching: Benefits & Risks

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

According to a study in the National Library of Medicine, static stretching can help improve your range of motion and prevent feelings of muscle tightness [5]. This is especially beneficial after a heavy-weight training workout.

I generally pick one or two stretches for each muscle group at the end of each weight training session.

However, as seen before, static stretching before a workout (or if your muscles aren't warmed up) could weaken your muscles and lead to injury.

Based on my experience, static stretches before a workout shouldn't be more than 10 seconds per stretch.

Dynamic Stretching: Benefits & Risks

In my experience, dynamic stretching can help warm up your muscles before a workout. However, it's not as beneficial after a workout.

Another study from the National Library of Medicine suggested that dynamic stretching before exercise (in this case, a hamstring workout) can help reduce muscle stiffness [6].

How Long Should You Stretch Each Time?

A woman stretching outdoors

You should stretch for at least five minutes before and after a workout.

I found this to be the sweet spot for me and most of my clients.

Keep in mind, no exact science proves this is a good number on how long you should hold a stretch, but another study in the National Library of Medicine, recommends stretch time of 15 to 30 seconds, repeated 2 to 4 times, as a minimum [7].

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 [8].

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.

Long-Term Benefits of Consistent Stretching

Regular stretching plays a crucial role in maintaining not only muscle health but also overall posture and body alignment.

These are the benefits of long-term stretching.

Preventing Chronic Pain and Postural Issues

Over time, our muscles can shorten and become tight due to factors like aging, sedentary lifestyles, and repetitive movements. This can lead to a range of issues, including chronic pain, especially in areas like the lower back, neck, and shoulders.

I found that consistent stretching helps counteract these effects by maintaining the natural length of muscles, thus preventing the gradual onset of pain and stiffness.

Health and Appearance

I've noticed how stretching keeps my posture in check – it's essential for both health and appearance.

For instance, stretching the chest and shoulder muscles can counteract the forward hunch that often develops from prolonged sitting or computer work.

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 doesn’t prevent muscle growth. It may contribute to improved blood circulation and reduced stiffness to speed up muscle recovery, but the evidence for this is mostly anecdotal.


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://healthyliving.azcentral.com/stretching-blood-flow-through-muscles-13314.html
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6370952/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886/
  8. https://www.hss.edu/article_static_dynamic_stretching.asp
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