best stretching techniques for before and after exercise


It’s no secret that we need to be warming up and cooling down whenever we exercise. This is because not only is it going to prevent injury, but it is also going to help better your performance and get you closer to those goals you are striving for. There are several different techniques for “stretching” that you can do to increase your flexibility and performance, but when you do them is going to be crucial! We cannot just sit down in a “V sit” and stretch those hamstrings before we go do a chest press, it ain’t gonna help! Just like finishing a workout and jumping right into the car to drive home isn’t going to help you cool down and recover. So, let’s dive deeper into the best stretching techniques for before and after exercise!

Why is it beneficial to warm up and cool down with exercise

If we are not properly warming up and cooling down when we exercise, we are actually doing ourselves a disservice and not getting the most out of our workouts. But, why? This is because if we exercise with cold muscles, we do not have the capacity to properly contract our muscles, or even fully lengthen them to get full range of motion through a movement! And if we cannot do these things, we are not going to be able to increase our strength or our performance because we are not actually working to our full potential! We also run the risk of serious injury because putting too much strain on a muscle that is not warm can increase tension on the joint/ligament/tendon and that is not good! On the other hand, cooling down is also very important. When we exercise, we are creating little micro-tears in our muscle fibers. These tears can enter the bloodstream and cause an increase in lactic acid. If lactic acid sits around for too long without being removed, we run the risk of being extremely sore and also not fully recovering properly. Cooling down also tells your body that you are done putting extra stress on it and it can calm down, aka stop producing stress hormones. And if we do not shut these hormones off, well, we all know what happens then (and if you don’t, check out my blog on stress and the bodies response).

Best stretching techniques for before and after exercise

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic means always changing, moving and progressing. So dynamic stretching is a technique that incorporates different movement patterns to mimic that of the exercise or sport that is going to be performed. This is the type of stretching you should be performing BEFORE exercise! Because this type of stretching uses compound movements and recruits several muscles, it is great to perform before exercise because it warms up the whole body and gets the heart pumping! You only need to perform a dynamic warmup for 5-10 minutes to really get the benefits. Here are a few example exercises of dynamic stretching:

• Lunge with a twist

• Walk outs

• High knees

• Spider lunge with hip lift

• Jumping Jacks

• Leg swings

• Arm swings

Static Stretching

Static means to hold, or lack movement. Static stretching is what everyone thinks of stretching, that long hold in one position. This is used to lengthen the muscles and increase flexibility, but only when it is done correctly! Static stretching is best done after your workout, to cool the body down and lengthen the muscles. When you think of throwing a leg up on a chair and leaning forward, getting that pull in your hamstring and holding it…that is static stretching. A static stretching session can be anywhere from 3-10 minutes as well and each stretch should be held for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Examples of static stretching include:

• Seated hamstring reach

• Standing quadricep stretch

• Kneeling hip flexor stretch

• Arm crossover

• Open book

• Figure 4 glute stretch

• Standing straddle stretch

Myofascial Release

— Myofascial release is the act of releasing tension in the fascia of the muscle. This stretching technique is a manipulative approach (by others or yourself) that “breaks down” the tension that can be caused from trauma, inflammation, and injury. Fascia is “is a band or sheet of connective tissue, primarily collagen, beneath the skin that attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and other internal organs.” So when that connective tissue gets “balled up” or “damaged” it can cause injury to the muscles it is stabilizing, so we need to break that down! This technique is best done after exercise or as a form of recovery on an off day. Myofascial release techniques include:

• Foam Rolling

• Deep tissue massage

• Rolling with tennis balls, lacrosse balls, tennis balls

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is “a method of stretching muscles to maximize their flexibility that is often performed with a partner or trainer and that involves a series of contractions and relaxations with enforced stretching during the relaxation phase.” This stretching technique is usually done with a partner, but can also be done using a band or different type of supportive equipment. PNF actually triggers the inverse myotatic reflex, a protective reflex that calms the muscle to prevent injury, and therefore gives you a much deeper stretch than you would normally get during static stretching! This technique should be done after exercise and should only be performed for 20 seconds, 2-3 times on each muscle group. Here are the three types of PNF stretching:

• Hold-Relax:

“After assuming an initial passive stretch, the muscle being stretched is isometrically contracted for 7-15 seconds, after which the muscle is briefly relaxed for 2-3 seconds, and then immediately subjected to a passive stretch which stretches the muscle even further than the initial passive stretch. This final passive stretch is held for 10-15 seconds. The muscle is then relaxed for 20 seconds before performing another PNF technique.”

• Contract-Relax:

“Perform a passive 10-second pre-stretch. The fitness professional applies resistance, counteracting the client’s force of concentric contraction of the target muscle group, without completely restricting the joint through its ROM. Relax the muscle group and allow a passive stretch; hold for 30 seconds to increase ROM. There should be a greater stretch during this final phase due to autogenic inhibition. Relax for 20 seconds before performing again.”

• Contract-Relax-Antagonist Contract:

“The first part of this stretch is similar to the hold-relax whereby the muscle being stretched is isometrically contracted for 3 to 6 seconds, then the antagonist muscle will immediately contract for 3 to 6 seconds. The joint is then pushed into its new range and held for 10 seconds. Rest 20 seconds before performing another PNF stretch.”

And that, ladies and gentleman, is WHY we must warm up and cool down with exercise and WHAT to do in both cases! It is so important for the health of our musculature that we really take these extra minutes to show it some love. More benefits of warming up and cooling down can be found on my at home workout blogs!

And if you have read through this blog and still want more ideas, every Monday I post a mobility movement on my instagram! Follow me, and save them so you can refer back! I hope you learned a little something about stretching techniques and which ones are best before exercise and which are best after!

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Haley Rowe June 9, 2018