Most experts agree on why you should stretch:
1. Stretching enhances muscle flexibility,
2. increase’s the body’s range of motion,
3. and can alleviate muscle stiffness.
But, as far as most athletes are concerned (that’s you!), the most important thing about stretching is that the three reasons listed above combine to help you a) perform better and b) avoid injury.
But, the rules around when you should stretch have changed and, if you’re not paying attention, you might be doing so at great risk. Indeed, if you ignore these rules, the outcome will likely be that you a) perform worse and b) invite injury!
Rule #1: Do not stretch before exercising
Why? Stretching damages cells so the body can rebuild with more flexible replacements. The bottom line talked about here (at about 2:05 in the podcast), and explained in greater detail here, is that stretching before exercising will not improve performance and may lead to injury so you’d be wise to replace pre-exercise stretching with five or ten minutes of light, warm-up activity such as brisk walking or cycling.
Rule #2: Do stretch after exercising.
Why? The repetitive, limited range of motion of many exercises (running can be one of them) can cause temporary shortening of muscles. The best time to counter these effects (stretch them!) is immediately following exercise while the muscles are warm.
Rule #3: Do Incorporate Stretching Into Your Routine as a Standalone Exercise Activity
Why? Studies have shown that treating stretching as its own type of workout is the most effective way to stretch your muscles so they’re long and supple all the time.
Putting it All Together
Runner’s have their cardio requirements taken care of by simply taking part in their activity of choice. In addition, most of us are familiar with the benefits of strength training. And now, we’ve got good reason to join that yoga or pilates class — because, over time, those kinds of stretching exercises do the best job of enhancing flexibility and increasing the body’s range of motion. The triangle is complete.
So, by all means, incorporate stretching into your routine.
Just do it at the right time and place.