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How and when to stretch

Wellness
Man and woman stretching outdoors.

Stretching before exercise was once considered an inherent part of any good exercise routine.
But these days, that’s considered old-school thinking. Instead, health experts say it is best to stretch every day, whether or not you plan to work out.
Stretching is vitally important to help you move with ease as you age. Failing to stretch regularly can compromise flexibility, which can affect quality of life later on or result in injury during strenuous activity and exercise.

Better to stretch after exercising

On days when you are planning to exercise, it’s often best to stretch afterward rather than before, says Angie Hill, senior exercise physiologist at Tidelands HealthPoint Center for Health and Fitness, our region’s only medical fitness facility. She asks her clients about any discomfort or stiffness they might have in order to determine how they might benefit from stretching and when it may be best for them.
“Start with gentle stretches and never overstretch,” she says. “If we have muscle tightness or just poor flexibility, the stretch should be mildly discomforting but tolerable.”

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The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching each of the major muscle groups at least two times a week for 15-30 seconds per exercise.
“Generally speaking, people who have full range of motion should perform stretches that hit every major joint,” Hill says. “You would never balance just one tire on your car, and likewise you don’t want to stretch just one muscle group in your body.”
Stretching after a workout can help avoid tightness, soreness and a limited range of motion that could worsen over time, Hill says. Stretching before exercise can fatigue the muscles, especially if you overstretch.

Regular stretching is key

Regular stretching translates into improved flexibility, which can reduce injury risk, improve posture and decrease pain and discomfort, she adds.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends post-workout static stretching, which includes stretching a muscle to your full ability without overstretching and holding it for 15-30 seconds.

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For stretches before a workout, the American College of Sports Medicine suggests a dynamic stretch in which you move muscle groups fluidly through entire ranges of motion – similar to a workout but with lower intensity. For instance, if you are preparing for a run, a brisk walk or walking lunges would be an ideal warm-up.
Static stretching after exercise is a great way to incorporate stretching into your regular routine because your muscles and joints are more flexible after exercise and will respond more favorably to the stretches, Hill says. But stretching can be done really at any time, such as in the morning before your shower, before hopping into bed or during breaks at work.

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