When Should You Stretch? Before Or After Exercise?

Should You Stretch Before Or After Exercise? A PT Settles The Debate

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Anyone who regularly exercises or plays a sport knows that stretching is crucially important. But when is the right time to do it? Should you stretch before or after training? And how long do you need to spend doing it for it to be effective? Vogue asked an expert to set the record straight on stretching.

The benefits of stretching

Why should we stretch at all? According to personal trainer Desiree Lethaus, stretching has a range of benefits for the body, including better posture, improved flexibility, and better mobility. “Regular stretching improves mobility and serves as injury prevention because it prepares the body for stress,” she explains. “Contrary to myth, a muscle cannot shorten and is therefore not lengthened by stretching either. Instead, you stretch the fascial tissue, tendons, and ligaments.”

Is it better to stretch before or after a workout?

According to Lethaus, there are three important factors to consider here: the duration of the stretching, the type of training, and whether the stretching is dynamic or static (more on that below). In terms of duration, she recommends a short series of stretches before and after exercise, while making time for longer sessions of stretching on non-training days, or after a long day at your desk in the office.

The difference between dynamic and static stretching

While dynamic stretching is based on movement, static stretching involves moving a joint as far as it can go and then holding it for a period of time. “Active before training, static after training,” says Lethaus. “Active, dynamic training is particularly useful before intensive exercise,” she points out. “The same applies to exercises that require speed, extra strength, and good flexibility.” Once you’ve completed your workout, static stretching exercises are a good idea, she says. “These can help to reduce the tension in the stressed muscles… stay in the position in which you feel a slight stretching and hold this position for 20 to 90 seconds.”

The type of exercise you’re doing is relevant

“The more intense and strenuous the exercise, the more carefully you should stretch afterward,” Lethaus says. “The type of preparation and follow-up stretches varies depending on what your training involves.”

If your goal is purely to build muscle mass, the trainer recommends a gentle warm-up beforehand to help with mobilization, followed by a separate stretching workout. If your goal is better flexibility, “you can perform longer dynamic stretching exercises before”.

It’s fair to say that stretching before exercise can improve movement and mobility so long as you keep it short, and after training, you should focus on a static stretching session. Lethaus concludes that you should “never do static stretching if you are not warmed up, and you should also refrain from stretching if you have sore muscles, as this impedes the capillary blood supply, increases tears in the muscle, therefore delaying regeneration after training.”

This article was originally published on Vogue.com

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