The age old advice – stretch before exercising! So where does this come from, and is it actually good for you? You’d be surprised to learn there’s not actually that much science behind stretching before exercise – although don’t mistake this for a warm up. On the contrary, there’s A LOT of evidence to show that warming up before exercise is a very good thing, and prevents the rate of injury.
However, if you have been stretching before workouts in an attempt to prevent a sprain or strain, your efforts might be in vain. Clinical research revealed that stretching before exercise does not prevent injuries. In fact, stretching before exercise may actually increase your risk of injury. Stretches like bending over to touch your toes could cause muscles to tense up, which is the opposite of what is required for physical activity. You may also be inclined to overstretch, leading to further muscle tightness which might compromise your speed, range of motion, or performance once you actually start working out or playing sports.
Stretching is not the same thing as warming up, which readies your joints, muscles and tendons for the activity to come. So rather than stretching for extended periods prior to exercise, you should do movements that would move your body through a range of motion and get your heart rate up. This can include jumping jacks, kickbacks, or jump rope. Alternatively, you could also do lighter intensity movements that are similar to your upcoming workout. For example, walking before running or slow cycling before biking long distances. These movements (also called dynamic stretches) increase your breathing rate, circulation, and heart rate, ensuring that your working muscles are supplied with all the blood, nutrients, and oxygen needed during high-intensity movements.
If you still want to stretch before working out, then you should do it before warming up. This is because stopping your dynamic movements to stretch cancels out the benefits of warming up. Your heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature would all drop substantially once you stop moving. After a few stretches, your muscles would return to being cold and you would have a resting heart rate that is not ready to immediately jump into a workout.
However, this does not mean that you should completely disregard stretching. The best time to stretch is after you are done playing sports or exercising. It is important to get your heart rate level back to normal after an intense workout, and stretching correctly will help your heart rate return to a normal resting state. Additionally, your body produces lactic acid during exercise, which is a chemical that is responsible for sore and achy muscles. Stretching could help to reduce the build-up of lactic acid throughout the body and can also help to relax tense muscles.
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