Find out whether stretching before a workout or after is better. Stretching is a well-known way to improve mobility – but as soon as it comes to regular implementation, some questions and ambiguities arise.
Because factors such as the type, frequency, and exact execution of the stretching can also be pursued differently depending on the objective.
And at the latest when it comes to the question of stretching before or after training, opinions differ. This and much more will be answered in detail in this article.
What Happens When You Stretch?
Flexibility is part of the basic motor characteristics and is defined as the ability to perform movements with a large or optimal range of movement of the joints, tendons. and muscles.
According to this limiting factors include the tendons and your muscles – the latter can be influenced in a targeted manner because this is where stretching comes into play.
When you stretch, muscle tissue deforms: it stretches. In a weakened version, this also works with passive structures such as tendons/ligaments.
The aim is to improve muscle stiffness in the short term and mobility in the long term.
However, the different types of stretching are particularly important, which is why they are now presented in detail.
With active stretching, the stretching position is taken by contracting the muscles that are antagonistic to the target muscles – this means that the opposing muscle is contracted to be able to stretch the target muscle.
The advantage of active stretching is that the stretching is taken up by a contraction of the antagonists and can contribute to their strengthening.
A disadvantage of this stretching method is that not every muscle can be addressed through active stretching.
In addition, weakened muscle groups (e.g. in beginners) can limit active stretching.
In passive stretching, the stretching position is assumed by external factors or aids, such as with a partner, with the help of gravity, or with the help of the strength of non-antagonistic muscles.
The advantage of passive stretching is its ease of use. Even beginners can use the passive stretching method. In addition, each muscle is sufficiently stretchable passively.
With so-called stretching, the stretching position is slowly assumed and held at its maximum for a certain time, usually 30 – 90 seconds. There is no movement in this end position.
Static stretching is a very effective way to make a long-term range of motion adjustments because the tissues will permanently adjust to the new length—if you do it regularly and progressively.
It can be done both actively and passively. One benefit for beginners is that by slowly assuming the stretch position, muscle stretch reflexes are reduced as much as possible, minimizing the risk of injury.
With dynamic stretching, the stretching position is alternately taken and left again.
The muscle is stretched by slightly elastic movements within the maximum joint end position possible.
The movement should be slow, controlled, and performed with a relatively small range of motion. It is important that no sweeping or jerky movements are forced.
Dynamic stretching is particularly good for warming up the structures and muscles of the body and increasing mobility in the short term. However, it has less of an impact on long-term mobility adaptation.
Stretching Before Training - You Should Avoid It
When we talk about stretching before strength training, the first question to be clarified is why and in which situations this would be necessary for you at all. So let’s first take a look at the important goals of a warm-up:
- Increased heart rate (More blood flow)
- Increase in body temperature
- More efficient
- Fewer injuries
- Improved oxygen availability in the muscle
- Optimized muscle activation (control)
If you don’t do a warm-up at all, most of the effects cannot be achieved.
However, if you do too much before your workout, performance may decrease and you may become overtired.
The goal for you should therefore be to find the right measure and the right method.
This is where stretching comes in for many people. But what can you hope for from it and what might even harm you?
No Static Stretching Before Training!
Studies on this have strongly opposed static stretching – i.e. holding the stretched position for 30 to 60 seconds – before strength training in recent years.
There are essentially two reasons for this:
1. Reduced Performance
A pictorial explanation may help you understand the rationale. In a simple sense, your muscles work like a rubber band.
You can drag yourself out and then come back to the starting point.
This is actually an important part of your daily strength training and is known as the so-called stretch reflex effect.
For example, when you bench press and slowly lower the barbell to your chest, your muscle charges with “tension” – the figurative rubber band is stretched.
You can then release this stored strength in muscles, tendons, and ligaments with an explosive upward movement.
If you now stretch your muscles before strength training, it loses this ability for a certain period of time – you also know that from the rubber band.
If you stretch it too much, it will lose strength. This effect lasts a few hours on the muscle, but it directly influences your performance in strength training.
2. Increased Risk Of Injury
A reduced performance could of course be accepted. Unfortunately, the aspect just explained is also reflected in an increased risk of injury.
Because in addition to the rubber band explanation, it is above all the attachments of the muscles that can be problematic.
The ends of the muscles are attached to joints and bones by tendons and ligaments. When stretching, these connection points are also stretched.
This makes them less stable and therefore more prone to injury. At best, you should avoid that.
Dynamic Stretching Before Training
If you want to stretch before training, you should always use a dynamic stretching method.
This eliminates the aforementioned disadvantages since the muscle and the passive structures are not long enough in the maximum end position. Dynamic stretching also has the following advantages:
- Can be used very specifically
- Similar to strength training in that you are also in a repetitive stretch position
- Active movement increases body temperature and heart rate
- Stretch reflex effect can even possibly be improved
So you fulfill a large part of the above goals of a warm-up. Exactly what you want to achieve before a workout.
In addition, you can now use dynamic stretching to specifically compensate for your restricted mobility.
For example, if you are acutely too immobile to perform deep squats, you can adapt this to your training by combining a specific mobility program with dynamic stretching.
Post-Workout Stretching For Recovery?
Strength training ensures that your muscles are minimally destroyed at the smallest level.
The goal is for them to build and repair themselves back stronger and bigger until next time.
If you now carry out an intensive stretching program after training, this can have an amplifying effect on the small muscle damage.
That’s not bad, but it can even prolong the regeneration in some cases.
On the other hand, there are theories that stretching promotes blood flow and thus helps your muscles to regenerate.
In view of the different perspectives, we cannot give you any absolute recommendations for stretching after exercise.
You should ask yourself whether you need a post-workout stretching program at all.
It’s a good time, but it can be done in the evening or in the morning just as well.
In addition, well-performed strength training also corresponds to a kind of dynamic stretching.
Because if you perform the individual strength exercises with a full range of motion, your muscles are automatically stretched with every repetition and even strained in this position – this is the basis for long-term adaptation.
This is also one of the reasons why the myth that strength training makes you immobile hardly has a right to exist.
Because the truth is: good strength training actually makes you more flexible.
I Want To Become More Flexible In The Long Term, What Should I Do?
Of course, if your goal is to make yourself and your body more flexible in a certain movement, stretching is your best friend. As you have already learned, static stretching is particularly useful here. But timing is also important.
- It is best to do static stretching on non-training days
- On training days, you can stretch the muscles that you are not training that day
- Do your pre-workout dynamic stretching
- If you train at noon, you can also stretch in the morning or evening
- Don’t stretch if you’re already very sore
- Regularity will help you succeed. You should stretch three to four times a week
- Before you stretch, warm-up and always be focused and deliberate
With these basic rules, you can already achieve great success. If you want to try something new, try the following practical combination for maximum effects:
- Static stretch your muscle for about 20-30 seconds
- Breathe in and out deeply and relax for about 5 seconds
- Now hold the static stretch position again for 20-30 seconds, but try to get a little further
You will immediately notice that you have immediately gained a little bit of mobility.
You can do this type of combination for 1 to 3 sets for your targeted muscle groups.
Regular stretching has many advantages and can help maintain mobility in everyday life and prevent muscular imbalances from developing in the first place.
If you are interested in the topic beyond this article, you will find more detailed information about it in the personal trainer certification and learn how you as a trainer can support your clients with “assisted stretching”.
Hope you learned a lot of new things. We have summarized the most important factors for you below:
- There are different stretching methods that you can use depending on your goals
- Static stretching is great for increasing mobility over the long term. However, it is not suitable before your workout as it reduces your performance and increases your risk of injury
- Dynamic stretching provides short-term adjustments. This makes it perfect before training
- You can stretch after exercise, but be aware that this can increase muscle soreness