Weekend warriors and dedicated athletes alike have long grappled with the most effective techniques for injury prevention and reduced muscle soreness. Chris Burton, MS, LAT, ATC, Parkview Sports Medicine, is here to answer one common question once and for all: Is it best to stretch before or after exercise?
Flexibility is a key component of fitness for all athletes, from professional to novice. An increase in flexibility can allow for a greater range of motion, which can aid athletic performance and improve the ability to perform daily activities. Stretching has long been the standard for individuals wanting to increase their flexibility, but the timing is a matter of debate. Some fitness professionals claim that stretching before activity not only decreases the risk of injury but also allows for the most improved flexibility. Still others argue that stretching after activity, when the muscles are warmed, provides the best increase in flexibility.
The answer is … well, actually both sides of the argument are correct.
A good warm-up has been linked to a decrease in injuries and serves as a priming mechanism to get the body ready for physical activity. It allows for an increase in blood flow throughout the body and in particular, muscles. With muscle temperatures increasing during the warm-up, it has been theorized that stretching before activity might provide the ideal scenario for increasing flexibility.
After finishing a workout, performing a 5–10 minute cool down has been shown to decrease muscle soreness in the body. One of the most common components of a cool down is stretching. The thought here is that, at the end of the workout, the body is warm, which allows for increased elasticity within the muscle aiding in flexibility.
So in the end, you don’t have to choose. You can incorporate both elements – a warm-up and cool down – into your workout regime for maximized results. If the ultimate goal is to increase flexibility, stretching is required to improve range of motion. And repetition is key. The more you stretch, the more you increase flexibility.