Stretching and warming up are often used interchangeably, but do they have the same purpose? Should you stretch before or after a workout, or both? In this post, we clear up what stretching is, who needs to stretch and when the most effective time to stretch is.
Why is stretching important? Before we understand how and when to stretch, it’s important to understand why you need to stretch in the first place. Stretching not only helps to increase flexibility, but it also helps to give your joints a greater range of motion. Without stretching, you’re more likely to find moving difficult, and suffer from aches and pains; especially later in life.
You might initially associate stretching with those who play a sport or run for example, however stretching is important for everybody. From a physical point of view, it helps to keep your muscles healthy, increase blood flood and even improve your posture. Stretching can also help your mental health too – it is key in mindfulness-based exercises such as yoga, which reduces stress and improves your emotional wellbeing.
You’ve more than likely been told to stretch and warm-up before exercising, and you’d think they’re the same thing right? Wrong. Stretching and warming up is not the same thing. Contrary to popular belief, stretching is not a way to warm up. However, there is a difference in opinion out there on whether you should stretch before exercising, some professionals think it can aid performance, whereas others believe that it can actually hinder your performance. Of course, this is subject to the individual and the sport/exercise they are doing. For example, a gymnast requires a wide range of motion, therefore stretching would be necessary.
The key difference between a warm-up and stretching is that the aim of warming up is to increase blood flow to the muscles, reduce the risk of injury and increase the effectiveness of your workout, whereas there is little evidence to suggest stretching is an effective way to do this. Your warm-up should last between 5 and 10 minutes.
As we mentioned above, there is a difference in opinion on whether stretching before exercising is beneficial or not. We’d recommend speaking to a sports health professional for personalised advice on this. However, what is agreed is that certain stretches should not be carried out before the muscles are warmed up, particularly if your workout is using the lower body. Doing so may cause more harm than good!
But how about stretching after a workout? Stretching post-workout is recommended to reduce muscle soreness, break down lactic acid and bring down your heart rate – there are also many other benefits of stretching after a workout.
So now you know why to stretch, and when to do it – but how do you actually stretch? Here are some of the most common types of stretches.
Static and dynamic stretching are the two most common types of stretching and will be more than suitable for non-athletes. However, you may also come across:
One of the most popular types of stretching is static. Static stretching should take place at the end of your workout, it involves you holding the stretch in place for a period of time. This is beneficial for post-workout stretches as it allows your muscles to loosen up, which helps to reduce soreness and stiffness.
Types of static stretching include:
Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching is based on movement, and the stretch position is not held for a period of time. The aim is to mimic the exercises within the sport/workout you are performing, making it particularly useful for sports containing running/sprinting. The aim of this type of stretch is to improve flexibility and prepare the body, making it an ideal stretch to undertake pre-workout.
Whilst warming up and stretching will help to keep you in good shape, sometimes sports injuries are unavoidable. We have some of the UK’s very best physiotherapists and sports injury specialists here at LycaHealth. Whether its neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain, hip & groin pain, knee pain, foot & ankle pain or tendon pain, our experts are on hand to help you take control.