Do you remember high school gym class? We were told that we should always stretch at the beginning of class to avoid hurting ourselves during sports or running the football field. Many people still believe the theory that you should always stretch before exercising to avoid any injuries. But, did you know that stretching cold muscles can actually cause that injury that you are trying to avoid?
The benefits of stretching are cumulative, therefore stretching before exercise does little to reduce the incidence of injuries during the ensuing workout. Rather, we should be focusing on stretching our muscles and joints consistently and more often, rather than just before a workout.
Stretching before a workout isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just make sure you have warmed your muscles up with some light cardio (such as jumping jacks, walking, or jogging) before you stretch. When your soft-tissue structures are cold, they are at their most brittle and thus subject to breakage. A warm-up increases core temperature, thereby diminishing a joint’s resistance to flow. This is accomplished via the uptake of synovial fluid, which provides the joint with lubrication which protects it from injury.
If you are short on time, you may want to stretch at the end of your workout when your core temperature is already elevated. Post workout stretching is also a great cool-down, gradually decreasing your heart and breathing rates and returning your body to a rested state. Another option is to stretch each muscle group as you work it during your training. For instance, after you perform a set of push ups, you could immediately stretch into Child’s Pose to release your chest and shoulders, before moving on to the next set of push ups, or your next exercise.
The bottom line is that stretching is beneficial to your body whenever you do it, just make sure you are properly warmed up first.