Do you tend to forgo stretching after a workout when you’re short on time? Although studies on the benefits of stretching show mixed results, taking five to ten minutes to stretch after your workout may improve athletic performance and help prevent injury.
Some studies show that stretching after a workout helps improve flexibility and reduce soreness, while others suggest there is little benefit to stretching. However, most certified professional trainers agree that a good stretch after a workout can have some real benefits, including:
• Improved athletic performance
• Increased flexibility
• Better range of motion in joints
• Decreased risk of activity-related injuries
• Improved blood flow to muscles
In addition to these potential benefits, stretching can be relaxing and is a great way to cool down after a hard workout.
It is important to use proper technique when stretching, or you could do more harm than good. Here are a few tips to remember when it comes to practicing safe stretching techniques.
Never stretch cold muscles. Stretching should not be considered a pre-exercise “warm-up.” If your muscles are cold when stretching, you could end up hurting yourself. If you plan to stretch before a workout, spent at least five to 10 minutes warming up with a light jog or biking before you stretch. This is one reason why stretching after your workout, not before, can be most beneficial.
Avoid stretching before an intense workout. There is some research that suggests stretching before intense exercise or activity can actually decrease performance — another reason why a post-workout stretch is ideal.
Think symmetry. When stretching, focus on achieving equal flexibility on both sides of your body. This is important if you’ve had a past injury, but can also help prevent future injuries.
Focus on major muscle groups. A good stretching routine should work every major muscle group, including calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Some research suggests that tailoring your stretch routine to your specific sport or activity can be more beneficial. For example, soccer players are prone to hamstring injury, so focusing on hamstring stretches can help.
Hold your stretch. Bouncing as you stretch won’t increase your flexibility and can lead to injury in your muscles. Instead, hold each stretch position for about 30 seconds and breathe normally as you stretch.
It’s important to remember that stretching doesn’t make you immune to injury, but it may help prevent muscle strains and tightness. If you are dealing with an injury, such as a strained muscle, stretching it may cause more harm. If you have questions about the most appropriate way to stretch after your workout, talk to a certified professional trainer.