Is it necessary to stretch yes or yes before and after exercise?

Most of us were taught as kids that not stretching before or after exercising is like a deadly sin. It is often said that if you skip your stretching routine, you will be more prone to suffer injuries, pain and, in general, a worse training.

But is this concept backed by science? Is it really necessary to stretch before and after each exercise?

“The easiest way to answer this question would be no,” says Dr. Samantha Smith, associate professor of clinical orthopedics and rehabilitation at Yale School of Medicine.

But the longer answer, experts say, is that depends on the type of exercise you are doing, as well as your fitness goals. Here’s why.

What do the studies show?

If you’re about to do an exercise that doesn’t involve a large range of motion, such as jogging for a few miles at a relatively steady pace, you don’t need to stretch beforesays David Behm, a sports science research professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

There are many different types of elongation, but for this article we are talking about static elongationin which you hold still in a position to stretch a muscle.

In such a case, a simple heating with dynamic movements -such as lunges, squats, butt kicks and high knees- will properly prepare your body.

Although some evidence is conflicting, most research also suggests that the static stretching has no effect on performance during strength and power training, or can even hinder it. (Strength training involves performing movements such as jumping jacks or explosive lifts to work on both speed and strength.)

Strength exercises that involve large movements, such as squats or the bench press, stretch the muscles just like elongations, says Behm.

Therefore, stretching before a lifting session would not improve performance (nor would it be a great use of time).

The evidence on the need for stretching before and after exercise is not always conclusive. Illustrative photo Shutterstock.

In addition, the elongations can slightly fatigue the muscles and tendonsSo if you’re stretching your quads and glutes before doing squats, for example, that could hinder your workout.

Many people stretch before exercising to reduce the risk of injury, but there’s also a lot of conflicting evidence on this topic, Behm says.

For example, he and his colleagues found in a 2021 review that while static stretching before exercise doesn’t always reduce injury risk, they do reduce muscle and tendon injuries when performed before exercises that require agility and explosive movements, such as sprints, jumps, or twists.

How to prepare for physical exercise

The ideal preparation for exercise consists of two steps, according to Eduardo De Souza, an associate professor of health sciences and human performance at the University of Tampa.

First of all, you have to raise body temperature with a warm up: light jogging, jumping rope, or light cycling, for example. “And then do a rehearsal of the movements for what comes next.”

That is, dynamic movements that stretch the full range of motion of the muscles, such as lunges or arm circles.

And the elongations after training?

According to Behm, many people stretch after training because they think it will help them recover and minimize sprains. But “the literature on this is very conflicting,” Smith added.

When it comes to stretching after lifting weights to prevent muscle soreness, for example, “there were studies that showed a positive benefit and studies that didn’t show any benefit,” he said.

Similarly, in a 2021 review, researchers found no evidence that static stretching after a workout speeded recovery (or did anything at all). With that said, Smith did not see any evidence that stretching as part of the cool down after a workout is detrimental.

In another 2021 review, Behm and his team found that stretches to minimize punctures only work if you have a constant stretching routineseparate from other workouts, that is done regularly before beginning strenuous exercise.

These elongations should last between 30 and 60 seconds for each muscle groupand performed at least twice a week.

After training you have to cool down well, and stretching is one way to do it, according to De Souza, just like foam rolling or walking. Although, he added, there isn’t enough research to determine which cooling method will make you feel the best after a workout.

Stretching routines help improve flexibility.  Illustrative photo Shutterstock.

Stretching routines help improve flexibility. Illustrative photo Shutterstock.

When do you have to stretch?

If you want to improve your flexibility or mobility, stretch various muscle groups between 30 and 60 seconds a day can help you, according to Smith. It can also be beneficial in ways you may never have realized.

People don’t often think of stretching to improve flexibility as a type of exercise or training in and of itself, Smith says, but add a stretch routine to your weekly training regimen can help you reach your flexibility goals.

Stretches can also help loosen tight muscles. But be careful, Smith said, as “an injured muscle or a weak muscle is often a tight muscle.” If a muscle feels tight and sore, it’s a sign that it might be injured, so you should see a doctor before you start stretching it.

Other benefits of regular stretches include improving balanceas well as help with joint and muscle pain, Behm said.

But rather than focus on whether or not to stretch, it’s important to Smith to look at the big picture of fitness — “that being strong, having good balance, having good coordination” are all important goals to push yourself with various types of exercise.

Stretching can be part of that, but if it doesn’t fit into your schedule or your goals, you don’t have to force it.

©The New York Times

Translation: Patricia Sar


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