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Why Is Stretching Before And After Exercising Important?

Last updated Sept. 24, 2016

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

It is highly recommended to stretch before and after a workout to help you achieve your fitness goals.


Many are dissuaded from adding stretching to a daily workout routine, as it does not provide a flatter abdomen or a stronger heart. Nevertheless, few know that stretching can actually help you achieve your fitness goals more efficiently.

Dynamic exercise and strength training require stable muscles that work smoothly. It is in the evaluation of this key requirement that the benefits of stretching can be seen in a greater light. Exercising is known to cause muscle shortening. Routine stretching counteracts this process, promoting flexibility in your muscles and joints, helping them move through their full range of motion.

Warmed-up muscles are more likely to control the stresses placed upon them that are caused by exercises. Mild stretching is recommended, especially prior to robust exertion of the muscles. Stretching without proper technique tends to be less effective and possibly damaging if an injury ensues. It is important to be careful while stretching, as the knees and lower back are susceptible to injury.

The Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services published a study in 2010 examining the impact stretching has on exercise-related injuries. It was found that when stretching was completed before and after exercise, there was no evident reduction in the risk for all injuries, but possibly a reduction in certain types of injuries. The researchers also concluded that regular stretching exercises reduced the risk of soreness post-exercise.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association published a study in 2011 proposing that measured flexibility was greater after both static stretching and dynamic stretching, but there was no improvement when participants did not stretch. This is indicative of stretching’s benefit to flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to properly move through their full range of motion.

There are several ways to get the most out of your stretching pre- and post-workout. The University of Rochester Medical Center has outlined several recommendations for incorporating stretching into your exercise routine.

  • Walking or light jogging for 5-10 minutes will warm-up your muscles prior to stretching and working out. It is not recommended to stretch muscles when they are cold.
  • Stretching should be undertaken at least 2-3 times per week.
  • All muscles groups that will be used in your exercise routine should be stretched.
  • Each muscle group should be stretched individually and slowly. Do not bounce during the stretch or make abrupt movements. You should focus on breathing and exhaling as you move further into the stretch. Any stretch position should be held no longer than 20-30 seconds, in 3 to 5 repetition cycles.
  • Holding onto a chair or wall during standing stretches will help you stabilize. This may prevent the occurrence of any injury.
  • Stretching should not be painful, so stop if you feel pain. If you stretch the wrong way, there is a possibility that you can cause small tears in your muscles, which can increase in size during the workout. 

Incorporation of frequent and routine stretching into your pre- and post-workout can be very beneficial to your overall flexibility. This will also help you accomplish your fitness goals. With your fitness goals being accomplished faster without injury, you will be on a faster track to being a healthier person. However, if you are experiencing steady pain during or after stretching, it is essential that you talk to a qualified fitness professional.

References:

Jamtvedt G, Herbert RD, Flottorp S, Odgaard-Jensen J, Havelsrud K, Barratt A, Mathieu E, Burls A, Oxman AD. A pragmatic randomized trial of stretching before and after physical activity to prevent injury and soreness. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2010;44:1002-1009. 

Chamerlain, K. When Exercising, Don’t Skip Stretching [Internet]. University of Rochester Medical Center [cited 2014 Nov 3]. Available from: http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=2206

Perrier ET, Pavol MJ, Hoffman MA. The Acute Effects of a Warm-Up Including Static or Dynamic Stretching on Countermovement Jump Height, Reaction Time, and Flexibility. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2011;25(7):1925-1931.

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reilly, T., & Ekblom, B. (2005). The use of recovery methods post‐exercise.Journal of sports sciences, 23(6), 619-627.

Herbert, R. D., & de Noronha, M. (2007). Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. The Cochrane Library.

Komi, P. V. (2000). Stretch-shortening cycle: a powerful model to study normal and fatigued muscle. Journal of biomechanics, 33(10), 1197-1206.

Weldon, S. M., & Hill, R. H. (2003). The efficacy of stretching for prevention of exercise-related injury: a systematic review of the literature. Manual therapy, 8(3), 141-150.

Herbert, R. D., de Noronha, M., & Kamper, S. J. (2011). Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. The Cochrane Library.

Nicol, C., Avela, J., & Komi, P. V. (2006). The stretch-shortening cycle.Sports Medicine, 36(11), 977-999.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Sept. 24, 2016
Last updated: Sept. 24, 2016