The standard rule is dynamic stretching before, static after–but that’s not always the best way.
When should you stretch? As with many aspects of fitness, there are different schools of opinion, and I’ve studied, as it were, with each of them. I’ve stretched before workouts because that’s what everybody else does; I’ve given up pre-workout stretching because I felt the cons outweighed the pros; and more recently I’ve come to appreciate some of the ways stretching can help to make a workout better. So let me share what I’ve learned.
Let’s bust a few myths, lightning round-style: Static stretching (where you hold a stretch for, say, 30 seconds) doesn’t “warm up” your muscles; actually moving around does that. Stretching beforehand does not reduce your chance of injury during a workout. And it does not change how sore you may feel afterward. (We debunk more on these myths here.)
If you currently don’t stretch before your workouts and you’re happy with how your workouts are going, you’re good. No need to add anything.
What should you do, then, instead of stretching? Consider the purpose of a warmup: It needs to prepare you for the day’s work. A good warmup should:
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Dynamic stretching is usually recommended over static stretching for the beginning of a workout, because it does the first two of these things at once. Let’s say you’re going to run; doing a few rounds of high knees and butt-kickers will get your heart rate up, your blood flowing, and your quads and hamstrings limber and ready to move freely.
Foam rolling or other self-massage techniques are also recommended here. They stretch your muscles in one spot at a time without requiring you to really sink into a stretch. Static stretching can slightly reduce your maximum strength or power output; dynamic stretching gives you less of a stretch and more of the other warmup advantages, so it’s a good option.