The Truth About Stretching

If you’re new to exercising, you’re probably confused about stretching. You’ve seen people do it before they run or before they do other workouts, so you think you should, too. But then you see people stretching after they workout. Should you do both?

Or maybe you don’t stretch at all. It just seems like a nice thing to do, but not mandatory. So what’s the deal with stretching? The bottom line is that there are benefits to stretching and there’s a right way and time to do it. Here’s what you need to know.

First, it’s a good idea to stretch before you do any workout. Your muscles are probably going to be tight, especially if you’re working out right after you wake or if you’re working out after sitting at a desk all day. Stretching before your workout can help prevent injuries and improve your performance.

However, doing what’s called static stretching—holding yourself in a certain position for seconds on end—isn’t the best choice before a workout. You should instead do dynamic stretching, where you mimic the kind of moves you’ll be doing in your workout. Basically, you do a lighter version of your exercise, where you’re moving. This means doing something like a brisk walk or even a jog before you start your actual workout. You can even do walking lunges or arm swings, depending on what exercise you’re about to start. And speaking of starting, when you’re warming up, start slowly.

After your workout, you can do static stretches, because your muscles are warmed up then and will get the biggest benefit. You can do a cooldown, like walking, and do the kinds of moves you probably think of when you think of stretching, like toe touches or reaching the arms to the sky. For more specific stretches that you should do, it’s not a bad idea to ask for assistance from a personal trainer.