Stretching: best before or after exercise?


The importance of stretching can be underestimated or even ignored in an exercise routine. It’s a mistake New Year gym recruits often make; maybe they are time short, or so eager to make progress with their resolutions they feel stretching is unnecessary or an inefficient use of their precious moments in the gym. But flexibility is one of the most important pillars of fitness, an essential attribute, so when it comes to stretching it shouldn’t be a question of whether, just a question of when.

It is better to stretch before or after working out?

There are pros and cons to when you stretch, influenced by both levels of fitness and weight training goals, but when it comes to New Year rookies needing more flexibility there are worthwhile benefits from commencing a workout with a stretching session.

Benefits from stretching before exercise

Stretching before a resistance session is intuitively smart, helping the body prepare muscles for the load they are about to take, but the main reason I prefer clients to stretch before training is to help them increase the range of movement of their joints. So, for example, when they come to performing squats, they can do so at proper depth. This is particularly important for people that have been sitting at a desk for most of the day. Their hip flexors are going to be tight, so by stretching out first some of that tension can be released, helping them to move more efficiently. Without stretching, tight hips can reduce the range of movement, ending up with the risk the spine may take more of the load in the squat.

Weight training – when it’s best to stretch after a session

There is evidence to suggest that when static stretching is performed before weight training the overall strength and performance in the workout may be reduced. Essentially maximal output is decreased. So, for experienced strength training gym goers, post workout stretching is preferable.

For beginners or anyone working on performing each weightlifting move efficiently, then maximal output should not be the main goal; developing proper technique and improving range of movement of each joint are more important priorities.

Most of my clients will stretch first to work on improving flexibility and range of movement in some of their joints. The greatest benefit for them lies in reclaiming a wider range of movement, making the exercises they learn the most effective they can be as they become default movement patterns. Indeed, for any beginner the priority should always be to increase range of movement first, and then when under load, for their body to start recognizing the new increased range of movement as normal.

Once technique has been mastered, and you have the proper biomechanics, switching goals to increase maximal output will postpone stretching until after the workout, so helping to relieve any tightness in joints.

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           About the author

Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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