This Is Why You Should Never Skip Stretching Before (Or After) Your Workout
Do you want to know the key the difference between a fitness newbie and a seasoned, toned workout pro? The answer lies in stretching, friends.
So many of us treat the stretching component of our warm-ups and cool-downs as optional and surprisingly satisfying when we remember to include it once in a blue moon. But these therapeutic minutes are critical for the body to not only perform its best, but also recover its quickest. If you really want to up your exercise game, read on to learn more about when you should be stretching, the kinds of stretches you should be completing and how long you should be working through each of them.
Before Working Out
Stretching before kicking off for a run or jumping into a spin class is one of the best ways for you to prevent unwanted injuries. A 2008 study from New Zealand found that just 15 minutes of proper stretching can provide the proper warm-up and protection your body needs.
But what does proper stretching here mean exactly? You want to pick dynamic movements over static movements. That’s just a (slightly) scientific way of saying you need to do stretches that keep you moving your body in a somewhat limited range of motion rather than stretches that you would lean into and just hold.
Some of the best dynamic stretches include walking lunges, butt kicks, leg swings, cat and cow stretches, arm circles in both directions and simple spine twists. Whichever motion you choose, just make sure you keep your body moving rather than holding the stretchiest part of the stretch. Try to repeat each stretch for 30 seconds before switching to the other side of your body or moving on completely to another stretch.
Oh, and just know that this dynamic stretching warmup will likely boost your overall workout performance as well. And who wants to pass over those gains? Not us — that’s for sure.
After Working Out
Stretching at the end of a workout is like the cookie you allow yourself to eat after choosing a super healthy salad for lunch — it really is the most satisfying part. Your body is nice and warm, your muscles are loose and limber, and you can really settle into some deeper stretches without risking injury. Your flexibility can benefit greatly from this stretch time, too.
Since you just slogged through plenty of dynamic movements, your post-workout stretching can be static, meaning you can hold each position for an extended period of time. Aim to hold each static stretch you complete for 30 seconds before switching sides or moving on to the next muscle group that wants some TLC.
Static stretches can feel especially effective in parts of the body that typically feel stiffer or tighter than others. A simple forward fold, for example, can work wonders for the hamstrings. The yogi’s half pigeon pose feels amazing on hips that need a little help opening up. And a classic chest-opening stretch is ideal after any serious upper body workout.
It’s just important that you use your breath and gravity to your advantage in static stretching. When you inhale, focus on the form your body creates and the muscles that are doing the work. When you exhale, let your body fall just a little bit deeper into the stretch, further opening up your muscles as they feel ready to give you space.
And, of course, the best part will arrive the following morning when your muscle soreness and stiffness is a fraction of what it typically is because you took the time to let your muscles lengthen while they cooled down rather than have them immediately tighten back up and stay that way.
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