Stretching is one of the most important parts of our exercise routines, but when is exactly the right time to stretch?
The old logic used to be that you should start every exercise with static stretches, which are stretches that are held for a short period of time, like hamstring stretches, or an overhead triceps stretch. But static stretches have been questioned in recent years after studies showed that prolonged static stretching could actually interfere with performance during workouts because muscles are tight and not as flexible. This is why some workouts choose to do static stretches at the end.
While static stretches may have fallen out of favor with exercise junkies, it seems as if dynamic stretches have taken its place. Dynamic stretches, which are active exercises that work your range of motion, tend to be better before a workout because they prepare your body for movements you’ll do later on. Walking lunges and leg swings are two of the most used dynamic stretches by trainers because they help to increase your core temperature and decrease muscle stiffness before a workout.
The ironic thing about dynamic stretches is that they don’t necessarily make your workout easier. In a new study published in June in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 20 male athletes were instructed to interchange their stretches for their pre-workout warm up each day (static stretches one day, dynamic the next, and so forth), so researchers could record how it affected their performance. The results found that their performance didn’t change from day-to-day. There also was no placebo effect; although the male athletes almost universally had expected dynamic stretching to better prepare them for workouts. These findings suggest that stretching does not boost athletic performance when it’s part of a full warm-up nor does it impede performance even when stretching is static.
Given all this information, there aren’t any performance hindering factors if you stretch before or after a workout. If you enjoy stretching before a workout then you can continue to do so. If you hate to stretch before a workout then you can skip it too. There are no rules as long as you warm up properly and safely.