Stretching is a big subject. You've probably heard that you have to hold a stretch for so long to gain long-term flexibility. You may have heard that you shouldn't rock back and forth while stretching, as it could lead to a muscle tear. Have you heard that you should stretch before exercising? Amazingly, none of these statements are true - but how do we know what is true? Let's start with the basics:
Do I Need to Stretch at All?
Generally, you don't have to stretch, but it's a good idea because it maintains flexibility, especially as you age. Regular stretching can help keep your hips and hamstrings flexible as you get older.
If you have poor posture, make a habit of stretching regularly. If you have back pain that stems from sitting at a desk all day, stretches that reverse this posture can also help. Stretching isn't a must, but it's a great idea.
Should I Stretch Before Exercising?
Not necessarily. Stretching before exercise hasn't been proven to help prevent injuries, relieve post-workout muscle soreness, or improve performance.
Studies have shown that static stretching (stretching a muscle to the max and holding it for 15 to 30 seconds) before training can affect performance, as holding a stretch tires the muscles. You're better off warming up with low intensity dynamic stretches that gently move your muscles through a full range of motion.
Should I Stretch After Exercising?
After your workout is a great time to stretch because your muscles and joints are warmed up and your blood is well circulated, making you more flexible.
After a workout, static stretching exercises benefit the body most. It's best to wait a bit after exercising before stretching, though - take a walk to cool down before getting right to it.
How Long Should I Hold a Stretch?
Static stretching doesn't hurt as long as you don't stretch to the point of pain.
However, studies show that dynamic stretching is just as effective and sometimes even better for the body, especially before a workout. With any stretch, whether it's static or dynamic, you should feel the stretch, but not be in pain.
Can You Stretch Anytime?
Yes. Stretching regularly is more important than when you stretch, or whether you stretch before or after a workout. You can stretch in the morning, before bed, or during breaks from work. In any case, it's best to make stretching a habitual part of your life.