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Marisa HeinzeAugust 2, 2022

Stretching before or after exercise? How to stretch properly!

Stretching before or after exercise?

One of the most frequent discussions around the topic of training is whether stretching should be conducted before or after exercise. You've probably heard this kind of discussion in the gym or in courses. But what does training theory have to say about this discussion?

Why should you stretch at all?

Stretching, also called stretching gymnastics, refers to putting muscles under tensile stress and fulfils a variety of different tasks:

  • Stretching increases flexibility. Stretching exercises lead to more flexible connective tissue in the muscles and thus increases joint mobility.
  • Proper stretching also prevents injuries. Stretching exercises increase the resistance of the muscles to stretching, making them better able to withstand heavy loads.
  • Stretching exercises can prevent and reduce muscular imbalances. These are caused by shortened muscle groups. Stretching exercises can counteract such shortenings.
  • Proper stretching leads to faster recovery and can prevent muscle soreness. This claim stems from the fact that the muscle relaxes when it is stretched and thus regeneration processes can begin more quickly.

Static or dynamic stretching?

If the muscles are put under tensile force and this position is then held, it is called static stretching, traditionally known as stretching. With dynamic stretching, the position is only taken for a short time and then immediately left again as part of a dynamic movement. It is not possible to make a general statement about which type of stretching is better. There are supporters of both forms among exercise scientists. It seems that both forms improve an athlete's flexibility.

Stretching before or after exercise?

To clarify the question of whether proper stretching should take place before or after sport, a distinction must be made between different types of sport. For example, strength training places different demands on the muscles to be stretched than endurance training.

(1) Stretching before strength training

A light stretching programme before strength training is considered very useful by most training scientists. Stretching increases the range of motion of the joints and consequently strength exercises can be performed in a more targeted manner. An example of this would be the squat, where the athlete squat lower after a mobilising stretching programme.

However, it is not advisable to do stretching exercises without warming up first. The athlete would then risk injury because a cold muscle does not stretch well. It is also advisable not to make the stretching programme too extensive before strength training. This would reduce the tension of the muscles, which would be counterproductive for the following strength training. Because tension is reduced mainly through static stretching exercises, a dynamic stretching programme to improve flexibility before strength training is more suitable.

  • Example shoulder opener - stretching exercise before strength training

Stand up straight and shoulder-width apart with your arms straight, hanging down beside your torso. Then bring your arms back as far as they can go in an extended position. When your hands are as far back as possible, return your arms to the starting position. Repeat ten times.

(2) Stretching after strength training

Just as before, stretching exercises are also useful after strength training. These help the muscle to relax again and initiate regeneration. In addition, strength training can lead to shortening of certain muscle parts and thus to muscular imbalances. Proper stretching after strength training would counteract these imbalances.

However, intensive strength training is an exception. Usually strength training results in many micro-tears in the muscles. Stretching increases these micro-tears even more and thus increases the regeneration time that is subsequently necessary. It is therefore advisable to refrain from demanding static stretches after intensive strength sessions and rather end the training with a light release.

  • Example: touching the ceiling - stretching exercise after strength training

Stand shoulder-width apart and straight. Then stretch your arms straight up as far as they will go. Try to touch the ceiling. At the beginning keep your feet on the floor, after a while you can stand on your toes. Hold this position for 20 seconds.

(3) Stretching exercises before endurance training

As with strength training, stretching is not recommended for endurance training when muscles are cold. Therefore stretching exercises before jogging are often regarded with scepticism. However, if you have already done a short warm-up, there is nothing to be said against a light stretching programme. Here, too, it is a good idea to use dynamic stretches to prepare the muscle for the subsequent load and reduce the risk of injury.

  • Example: leg swings - stretching exercise before endurance training

Stand shoulder-width apart and straight. Now lift one leg while the other remains on the floor. Swing the lifted leg slightly to the left and right in front of the standing leg. Stay straight and keep a steady rhythm. You can do this movement 20 times.

(4) Stretching exercises after endurance training

As with strength training, stretching after endurance training can help you relax and recover more quickly. Similarly, however, stretching after hard workouts should be viewed with caution, because it can also increase micro-tears in the muscles.

Most joggers like to stretch after a workout. The reason for this is that stretching exercises generally have positive effects, such as counteracting muscular imbalances. Stretching exercises after jogging are easier to integrate into the training programme.

When stretching before sport, as described, a warm-up round must first be completed before jogging is interrupted for the stretching exercises. With stretching exercises after sport, the athlete is already warm from the training.

  • Example: butterfly sit - stretching exercise after endurance training

Sit cross-legged and keep your back straight. Then place your elbows on your legs and try to push them down further. Hold this position for about one minute.

Conclusion – whether to stretch before or after exercise?

There is no general answer to the question of whether stretching should be done before or after exercise. A distinction must be made between strength and endurance training. In strength training, stretching can be done both before and after strength training because of its many positive effects. Before strength training, dynamic stretching is preferable, which takes place only after a warm-up programme. After strength training, on the other hand, stretching should only be done if the session was not too intense.

Similarly, in endurance training there are some advocates of stretching both before and after training because of the many positive effects. For practical reasons, however, the stretching programme is often done after exercise, especially when jogging. Since the load on the muscles in less in endurance than strength training, micro tears in muscles are less likely.

In addition to that, see what feels good in your body and helps you achieve better performance.

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