Well, that all depends. While flexibility is an important component of healthy joint and muscle function, the timing and type of stretching used pre/post workout are key to effectiveness.
Preparing for an exercise class, workout, run, weight training or a bike ride requires the right kind of pre and post-movement. Stretching plays an important role in this preparation and will ensure the best performance in your activity and will help to reduce the risk of injury.
Both the freedom of movement (pain-free) and optimal movement (getting to your PB) are dependants upon stable joints and muscles with the ability to move through their intended range of motion.
As we take our body through various planes of movement, tight muscles that cross over a joint will limit the motion of that joint. Weak muscles that cross over a joint or support a joint will not provide stability for that joint under stress. Either scenario can cause pain and can lead to early degenerative changes in the joint.
Taking the time to stretch is important, but making the most of how you stretch will help you maximize your efforts.
The stretch before an activity is best done as a moving stretch (dynamic stretch) This means, taking whatever muscle groups you will be using at your sport through movements similar to your intended activity.
As an example, if your activity is running, your warm-up might include: standing on one leg and touching the floor, followed by some half-depth walking lunges.
The first part (standing on one leg and doing floor touches) isolates the weight transfer that happens during running and prepares the smaller stabilizing muscles at the ankle, knee, and hip for the repeated version of this occurs during your run. The second part (walking lunges) helps to activate the Quads, Glutes, and Hamstrings, get some blood moving to those larger muscles which will be your drivers during the run. Add in a couple more moving stretches and glute activation and you have sent the (neurological) message to your muscles and joints that say ‘Hey it’s time to go to work!’
Aggressive static stretches or ‘bounce-y’ stretches to a cold muscle can cause unwanted tightness or worse tears
The type of stretch after an activity that is most useful is a sustained hold stretch (static stretch). This is the stretch that you hold for a longer period of time and relax into. As an example: a seated hamstring stretch, where you would reach towards your toes and ease into, can be useful in helping muscles relax post-workout, recover faster, maintain flexibility, and is a great injury prevention strategy.
When performing static stretching, listen to your body, take your stretch to the first “barrier” (this is where you feel a gentle pull), and breathe. Hold until you either no longer feel the stretch or feel less stretch. This may take up to 2 minutes.
When Shouldn’t I Stretch?
You can’t stretch your way out of a strength deficit! If a muscle is weak or not firing properly then it may need more than stretching. Strength work or muscle activation may be required to ensure that you have joint stability along with the necessary flexibility.
My Rules for Stretching
- Before the activity: Dynamic (moving)
- After the activity: Static (holding)
- Less is more, with both Dynamic and Static, keep it gentle,
- Find the first barrier of stretch and hold
- Hold until you feel a ‘relax’
The Role of Therapy in Stretching
Massage Therapy manually lengthens the muscle and removes restrictions to lengthening such as trigger points and adhesions. Massage Therapy can also change scar tissue, from motion limiting into a more mobile structure. Manual flushing of waste materials and increased blood flow also means better tissue health and faster recovery.
Fascial Stretch Therapy lengthens muscles, frees up compressed joint spaces, and enables your body’s natural lubricant to move into joint spaces for less wear and tear as you move.
Education on stretching and balancing stretch with strength is an integral part of my practice with both athletes and ‘daily life athletes’. Everyone needs to be able to move to their full potential regardless of age or chosen athletic pursuit.
Book a maintenance treatment and your body will thank you.
Jim Marinow is a Registered Massage Therapist, Fascial Stretch Therapist, and Tui Na Practitioner