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|Static stretch Before or After a Workout?|
|Whether it's best to stretch before or after a workout tends to be a controversial subject among fitness experts. It really depends upon the individual and the type of activity they are doing. Ultimately, it's best to do whatever works best for you.
The important thing is to make regular stretching a part of your exercise routine.
Recent studies seem to indicate that slow, easy stretching (or what we call static stretching) may temporarily reduce muscle strength and power, so if you're a competitive athlete, it is best to wait until after competition or exercise to perform static stretching.
People who are thirty years old and up, especially if they've already had back issues, may still benefit from at least some static stretching before they workout. The objective is to ready the joints, ligaments, and musculature of the lower back. Static stretching of the large muscles of the legs - the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves - helps to also elongate and loosen the lower back muscles and related structures.
So, for many of us, performing a slow, easy static stretch routine first, followed by a brief dynamic warm-up, is the best way to help ensure a safe and enjoyable workout.
You may be wondering what the big deal is about stretching. Well, first and foremost, stretching is important because it helps to improve your flexibility and lengthen your muscles. Also, when you stretch and lengthen the major muscles of your legs ( the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles) you also lengthen and loosen the muscles of your lower back, which can help relieve and prevent lower back pain. Similarly, when you stretch your arms and shoulders, that can have a positive effect on your middle and upper back too.
Recent exercise physiology studies indicate that it is best to do slow, static stretching after exercise rather than before.1 Before you exercise, try performing more "dynamic" warm-ups, such as light jogging, arm circles, jumping jacks and other large movements like twisting your torso side to side. This will help to get your muscles warmed up and ready to work out. If you have back problems though, it's a good idea to also do the familiar static stretches even before the dynamic warm-up!
Take your time when you stretch. You can't hurry a stretch, and if you rush, you risk pulling or straining a muscle. Ideally, include ten or fifteen minutes of stretching as part of your regular exercise routine.
Static stretching should be performed very slowly and gently. Don't push it or try to stretch further than what feels comfortable. Stretching is a Zen-like activity - being mindful of what you are doing and how your body feels. Just relax and enjoy the feeling of lengthening your muscles.
Your breath is also very important. Taking slow, deep breaths will help you and your muscles relax, allowing you to get the most benefit from your stretching time.
It also helps to visualize (hold a mental image in your mind) of the muscles you are stretching. This will help you to establish a brain-muscle connection, making your muscles smarter!
Here are a few basic static stretches to get you started:
1Behm DG, et al: Effect of acute static stretching on force, balance, reaction time, and movement time. Med Sci Sports Exercise (36(8):1397-1402, 2004.