Should I Stretch Before or After My Workout?

Many exercisers advocate the use of static stretching prior to exercise.  Static stretching involves reaching forward to a point of tension and holding the stretch.  However, does static stretching prior to activity actually achieve the assumed goals of injury prevention and performance enhancement?

Static Stretching

Research has shown that static stretching can be detrimental to performance and doesn’t necessarily lead to decreases in injury. Here are a few examples:

     >Static stretching has been shown to decrease muscle strength by up to 9% for 60 minutes following the stretch and decrease eccentric strength by 7% followed by a specific hamstring stretch (2).

     >Rosenbaum and Hennig found that static stretching reduced peak force by 5% and the rate of force production by 8% when testing the Achilles tendon reflex (4).

In many activities it is important to have explosive muscles that allow an athlete to jump higher or accelerate quickly thus, having optimal power. It seems that static stretching would not be adequate. How do we stretch beforehand to achieve optimal performance?

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching consists of functional based exercises which use sport specific movements to prepare the body for movement. Below are a few examples of support for dynamic stretching:

     >Dynamic Flexibility increases core temperature, muscle temperature, elongates the muscles, stimulates the nervous system, and helps decrease the chance of injury (3).

     >Famous Strength & Conditioning coach, Mike Boyle, uses a dynamic warm-up with his athletes. In 2002 he did not have one major muscle pull that required medical attention (1). 

The above evidence suggests that possibly static stretching before a sport or event is not the best solution and doesn’t necessarily lead to a decrease in injury but may actually decrease performance.  Applying the principles of specificity, use a warm-up that mimics movements of your sport to help increase flexibility and enhance performance.   If you’re engaging in an explosive activity, save static stretching for after the workout and use dynamic stretching beforehand.

References:

1. Boyle, Mike. 2004. Functional Training for Sports. Human Kinetics, Illinois: p. 29.

2. Critchell, Mick. 2003. Warm Ups For Soccer: A Dynamic Approach. Reedswain Inc.: p. 5.

3. Gregory, F. & Szymanski, D.  2001 Baseball Part 1: Dynamic Flexibility. NSCA Strength and Conditioning Journal. Vol 23: p. 21-30.

4. Rosenbaum, D. & Hennig, E.M. 1995. The influence of stretching and warm-up exercises on Achilles tendon reflex activity. Journal of Sport Sciences vol. 13, no. 6, pp. 481–90.

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