SHOULD YOU STRETCH BEFORE OR AFTER THE WORKOUT?
This topic has circled the fitness world for some time and is an all too common scenario. A participant is ready to start working out. They lace up their shoes and grab their ankles and pull for a quick ‘quad’ stretch. Or they lean forward touching their toes briefly before engaging in load bearing movements. That’s good enough right? It really comes down to “why”. Why are you pulling on those muscles? It’s to prepare them for the activities you’re about to engage in. So being intentional about your movements verses habitual will give you a better understanding of what is needed to be safe and productive.
It really comes down to the factors of the participant. Factors such as your age, experience, hydration as well as genetic or environmental factors will play a role in what is a sufficient warmup. We have all seen the rolling of the eyes from elders as children run and play with zero warm up. They don’t worry about pulling muscles or if they have adequately released their hip flexors for optimal Range of Motion (ROM). So age is one of the first factors of the warm up. The older you are, the more time you will need to get your body prepared for the activity. Same goes for the cool down. Adequate cool down helps with soreness as well as regulating blood pressure and resting heart rate.
Workout experience. If you are a regular ‘road warrior’ and are running mile after mile, your body will be more adapted to the stresses put on it. Your heart will be healthier and you will be able to recover more quickly than someone who is just beginning their fitness journey. Often cases the warm up for said ‘Road Warrior’ could very well be the complete workout for the beginner. Expecting someone on their first day to keep up with someone on their 1000th day is not realistic and extremely dangerous. So experience 100% plays a role in preparing for a workout.
Hydration. Oh goodness, here we go. Your body needs liquid. I would say “water” but then I get the “What about tea?” comments. The best way I can say this is, your body is something around 70% water. That’s common knowledge. Go deeper. Water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. Oxygen is what gives our body power. It is the fuel that your strength, endurance and overall productivity runs on. The better your cells receive oxygen the more focus you will have throughout the day. Which is also why proper breathing is vital to a productive life. Water helps our body with digestion, detoxification, lubrication and so many other benefits. Not drinking enough water would be like only changing some of the oil in your car. The engine is never going to run at optimal speed, torque or power without that fresh clean oil keeping it moving smoothly. In relation to exercise, would you take a motor that has not received maintenance and start forcing the motor to pull a trailer or speed down a race track, no. If you did, you would not be surprised when the engine overheats and breaks down. Same as your body. If you’re not adequately keeping your body hydrated it will overheat and break down at a faster rate.
Let’s just keep going while we are here. Caffeine. Bodybuilders and physique competitors will use caffeine to dehydrate their bodies for a leaner more ‘shredded’ look. I repeat, they use caffeine to dehydrate their bodies. So coffee, energy drinks or some other form of caffeinated drink is not helping your body to be hydrated. It’s doing the opposite effect and in most cases the chemicals in the drinks are making our bodies work harder to figure out what did we just consume. So ditch those energy drinks, grab a water jug and keep your engine running smoothly.
Side bar: Your bodies energy level reacts to fruit sugar the same way it reacts to caffeine. Minus the crash a few hours later. So try some grapes.
The ACE Personal Training curriculum states that static (not moving) stretching before a workout is ok as long as it is only for a few seconds. And don’t bounce in the stretch for it will actually cause the body to shorten the muscle and could tear it. However, dynamic (moving) warmups are better for blood circulation, preparing muscles and understanding the movements of the daily workout. Post workout stretching is more beneficial and can be held for longer periods for better results.
My personal approach is, I don’t want to put any stress on my body until I’m sweating or nearly sweating. If I am going to do a squat, I want to make sure every tendon and ligament as well as muscle fiber is ready to fire and protect my spine as it was designed. Post workout, I will sit and stretch as intentionally as possible for not only the muscles that are targeted, but a total body stretch to return blood levels and controlling lactic acid build up.
So inclusion, you CAN stretch before a workout as long as it is only for a few seconds but it is better to do a dynamic warmup to get your body sweating before applying stress on it. Save the ‘sit down and stretch’ for AFTER the workout and ditch the coffee for water and fruit in the meantime.
-Adam Aalderks ACE Certified