Should you stretch before or after exercise, and what are the best type of stretches to do? Andrew Cate highlights 4 key findings from the latest review on stretching to boost your fitness and flexibility.
1. Perform dynamic stretches in your warm up to boost performance
To warm up, it was often thought that you should perform stationary hold-type stretches. However, recent evidence suggests that these sustained static stretches could actually be detrimental to your performance and that there are significant positive effects to be had from dynamic forms of stretching performed as part of your pre-activity routine.
- Involves controlled movement patterns that take the active joints and muscles of your activity through their full range of motion
- Dynamic stretches lasting greater than 2 minutes, and performed at faster frequencies has been shown to result in even greater improvements in performance
- Dynamic stretching is thought to be better at elevating core body temperature, which can increase nerve conductivity and energy production
Some examples of dynamic stretches include walking lunges, heel to buttock jump kicks, sideways skipping and high knee marches.
2. Stretching to prevent injury is more important before activities involving sprinting
When it comes to the prevention of injuries, pre-exercise stretching can vary in its effectiveness depending on the activity.
Overall, the current research indicates that pre-activity stretching may be beneficial for injury prevention in sports with a sprint component, but not in endurance-based running activities.
3. Stretching for at least 5 minutes before exercise is more effective at preventing injury
If you are stretching before exercise? The longer the better.
The research suggests that examined the duration of pre-activity stretching found the longer (total) you stretch before exercise the better chance to prevent injury.
In reviewing six studies where pre-activity stretching lasted for five minutes or greater, 5 studies showed some benefit with respect to reduced injury risk.
While there were fewer studies to support injury prevention benefits from stretching for less than five minutes, positive results were still found- for example teams that stretched before a game had lower injury rates of the hamstring muscle group.
4. Don’t rely on stretching alone to prevent muscle soreness after exercise
There is conflicting evidence as to whether stretching in any form before activity can reduce exercise-induced muscle soreness or other symptoms of muscle damage.
Most research has demonstrated that stretching prior to exercise is ineffective in reducing soreness, but there are exceptions.
It may be wise to experiment with a variety of strategies to prevent muscle soreness and discover what works best for you. This could include pre-activity stretching, post activity stretching, massage and applying ice to targeted muscle groups.
What does this mean for your workout?
Use different types of stretches for different outcomes. The stretches that you perform should differ depending on whether you are:
- Warming up and preparing for exercise
- Performing endurance, strength based or sprinting tasks
- Cooling down and recovering from an activity or workout
- Undergoing rehabilitation from injury
If you are unsure about the best stretches and methods to suit your chosen sport or activity, consult with an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist.