According to a strength and conditioning expert, the types of stretches you need and when you should do them all depend on your workout
By Nadine Halili | Art by Tricia Guevara | Sourced photo by Morgan Petroski/Unsplash
Stretching is proven to prevent injuries by increasing mobility and flexibility as it targets specific muscle groups. However, studies have also shown that doing the wrong warmup stretches can weaken performance and tire out muscles. You may end up running slower, jumping a little less higher and losing a bit of strength if you choose to do static stretches before a workout. Depending on your fitness goals, a proper warmup is meant to physically and mentally prepare you. So we reached out to strength and conditioning expert Migie Felizardo to explain the best times to stretch to maximize your workout.
The type of stretches depend on your fitness goals
If you want to stretch to warm up your body before exercising, focus on dynamic stretching. According to Felizardo, these stretches place emphasis on the movement requirements of the sport or the activity rather than on individual muscles.
“These types of movements are also considered as mobility drills and consist of activities that actively move a joint through the range of motion required for the sport or exercise. They can be used to help warm up your body before exercising,” says Felizardo.
Some examples he cited include:
- Walking lunges
- Sumo squat to stand
- Forward lunge with elbow to instep or the World’s Greatest Stretch
- Side lunges and cossack squats
- Atlas lunge or lunge with twist
On the other hand, slow and constant stretches or static stretches where you hold the position for 30 seconds or more are usually used to improve flexibility. Felizardo says that static stretching is usually done after the workout for recovery since it involves the elongation and relaxation of the stretched muscle.
Some examples include:
- Wall calf stretch
- Straddle (spread eagle)
- Butterfly stretch
- Standing quadriceps stretch
- Toe touch stretch
- Half-kneeling hip flexor stretch
The main rule is to do dynamic stretching for warmups and static stretching after exercise or for a separate flexibility or recovery session. Felizardo makes this distinction, adding that you can include both dynamic and static stretches in the middle of your workout for mobility and some static stretches before a workout if you think a muscle group needs more flexibility.
“Just make sure to end your warmup with some exercises that are going to raise your body temperature and excite the central nervous system so that you can execute the exercises in your workout properly. You may also use some static stretches or dynamic stretches as a filler during a workout session.”
Instead of resting before your next set of squats, you can incorporate a quick stretch like an active hip flexor stretch to improve your body’s mobility for the squat.
Common mistakes people do while stretching
Aside from mixing up dynamic and static stretches, Felizardo additionally notes a few common warmup mistakes people do. The first is not taking them seriously. “People try to do lousy movements instead of trying to be more athletic and move through the full range of motion. It doesn’t help them with their workout performance at all. Most of the time if your warmup sucks, your workout is going to suck too!”
Secondly, warmup exercises shouldn’t take too long and tire you to the point of fatigue. You’ll end up using all your energy, leaving you exhausted before you actually start working out.
“A good warmup routine normally lasts 10 to 15 minutes in a workout session and around 15 to 20 minutes maximum for a sports session. Remember that the goal of the warmup (dynamic stretching) is to stimulate the muscles, not fatigue them so monitoring volume is key,” says Felizardo.
Lastly, people tend to neglect breathing properly and end up holding their breath whenever they do static stretching.
“People normally do this due to discomfort when they feel some tightness in a range of motion during a stretch. Breathing is key to improving relaxation and flexibility. Static stretching should be done with deep breathing to maximize its benefits,” says Felizardo.
Much of the confusion about stretching before exercise comes from a lack of understanding warmups. Studies have shown that warming up by itself has no effect on a range of motion, but when it is followed by stretching then there is an increase in range of motion. Many people have been convinced by this finding that stretching before exercise prevents injuries, despite clinical research indicating the opposite. A better interpretation is that warming up reduces the chance of injury, while stretching hasn’t been proven to prevent injury.
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