Stretching is an important element of exercise, but are you doing it right? There’s dynamic stretching, static stretching, stretching before a workout, stretching after a workout and even stretching as the workout.
Do you really need to do all of this stretching? If you’ve ever asked yourself that question, or if you’ve just been skipping stretching altogether - this is the article for you!
Why you should stretch after exercise
Let’s start off by differentiating between the types of stretching: static and dynamic. Dynamic stretching might sound like a fancy buzzword, but it’s actually a major part of your workout: the warm-up. Dynamic stretches are active movements that take your muscles and joints through a full range of motion.
They help you get your body primed and ready for exercise and are usually done in coordination with the workout ahead. For example, a lower body workout will focus on dynamic lower body stretches like bodyweight squats, walking lunges, alternating toe touches, standing leg abductions, etc. Dynamic stretches are almost like a low intensity version of your actual workout.
Static stretches on the other hand, are most likely the ones you imagine when you think of the concept of stretching. They are ones you hold, anywhere from 20 to 60 seconds, without any extra movement. Static stretching should be done after your workout, once your muscles and tissues are already warmed up and relaxed, in order to work on your range of motion and flexibility.
Stretching at this point can help you cool down from your workout, stave off any unnecessary soreness, and help your muscles recover from exercise. Static stretches include the standing quadriceps stretch, overhead triceps stretch, butterfly stretch, etc. Below we’ll discuss more in detail the benefits of post-workout static stretching.
Benefits of Static Stretching After Exercise
Stretches don’t need to take up a substantial portion of your day or your workout. A few minutes is all it takes to reap the benefits. The point is this: stretching should be an elemental part of not only your exercise routine, but your life.
Taking the time to focus on your flexibility and mobility will help you feel and move better in your workouts as well as throughout your day.
Increased Range of Motion & Flexibility
After your workout, stretching can increase your flexibility and your range of motion (ROM), which are important for the movement and function of your joints, meaning you move through your day more easily and with less pain.
Both flexibility and ROM also play a part in your balance, mobility and overall strength. Use a foam roller to get the most out of your stretching time.
Tight muscles are one of the culprits of bad posture. Poor posture leads to back pain, headaches, poor sleep, increased stress and tension in your neck and shoulders, and can even hinder your breathing, circulation and digestion.
Stretching helps to encourage a neutral spine, one that is in proper alignment, which enables the muscles surrounding the spine to work together to support the body equally, thereby improving your posture.
Increased Circulation and Blood Flow
Stretching after exercise encourages blood flow and better circulation. Blood brings with it fresh nutrients to your muscles so they can recover and heal after a tough workout.
Good circulation post-workout can help start the recovery process and ease or prevent muscle soreness. Think of static stretching as your cool down from exercise. It helps transition the body from the brunt of the workout to the recovery period.
Stretching Any Time
As you can see, static stretching is particularly beneficial after a workout, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only time you can perform them. Stretching alleviates tension in the muscles and in turn, can help ease stress. For that reason it can be helpful to incorporate stretches at other times in the day as well.
Many people enjoy a 5-10 minute stretch session when they first wake up in the morning as it energizes and preps them for the day ahead. Others add a few stretches into their nighttime routine in order to relax, let go of the day’s stresses and prepare their body for sleep. Still others find that by taking regular breaks during their workday to get up and stretch, they are more productive, calmer and less tense.