The Truth About Stretching
Does it help or hurt? Should you do it before or after a workout? Experts sort through the many mixed messages.
Should You Stretch Before Exercise? continued...
Walking lunges, leg swings, high steps, and "butt kicks" -- jogging forward while kicking yourself in the rear end -- are all good dynamic stretches to do before a run.
However, if the exercise involves a range of motion greater than the one required in everyday activity, Millar does recommend including stretching in your warm-up.
"If I'm going to play racquetball, I want to make sure I do more of a warm-up, and stretching is one part of that," she says.
She recommends dynamic stretching before any workouts that push you beyond your typical range of motion -- not necessarily because you need the actual stretch, but because a warm-up should mimic the exercise itself. So you should move your bodies through the full range of motion you'll use in the actual workout, starting out slowly and gradually increasing intensity.
Should You Stretch After Exercise?
Some experts say this is the best time.
"Everyone is more flexible after exercise because you've increased the circulation to those muscles and joints and you've been moving them," Millar says.
So after exercise is the time you'll get the most benefit from those static stretches.
"After you go for a run or weight train, you walk around a little to cool down. Then you do some stretching. It's a nice way to end a workout," Bracko says.
And it can help prevent feeling stiff later.
"If you've ever done a long race and then done nothing afterward, you stiffen up," Millar says. "That's why I tell people to incorporate it afterward."
Can You Stretch Anytime?
Yes. There's no strong evidence that stretching has any relationship to the rest of your exercise program. It is not a must that you stretch before or after your regular workout. It is simply important that you stretch sometime.
This can be when you wake up, before bed, or during hourly two-minute breaks at work.
"Stretching or flexibility should be a part of a regular program," Millar says. "It can be wherever you want to put it."