There are various opinions out there in the fitness world on whether one should stretch before or after a workout. The answers may vary depending on who you ask, but here’s what the experts at Luke Air Force Base have to say.
Stretching and flexibility are often neglected aspects of fitness and health, according to Sherri Biringer, 56th Force Support Squadron fitness specialist supervisor.
“Many people feel stretching is not needed or can be put off,” she said. “But, that’s not the case. Stretching keeps your muscles flexible. And flexibility is the capacity of muscles and joints to move through a full range of motion.”
Stretching also relieves pain, eases tension around joints, reduces chance of injury from muscle strength imbalances and can reverse gradual loss of flexibility as the body ages, Biringer said.
“Stretching increases the production of glycoaminoglycans,” she said. “Glycoaminoglycans are a gel-like substance that helps prevent muscle fibers from sticking together and helps to repair collagen, which protects and cushions joints.”
Types of stretches may vary person to person, according to Matthew Corcoran, 56th FSS fitness instructor.
“It all depends on your workout,” he said. “For example, if your workout involves squats, you need to work on lower back flexibility. If you don’t stretch properly you risk getting injured.”
Although experts disagree, Biringer said stretching before a workout isn’t necessary.
“If you stretch before your workout there is a higher chance of injury, because you’re trying to lengthen cold muscles,” she said.
Instead, Biringer recommends doing an active warm-up prior to a workout.
“Active warm-ups help to loosen up the rotational chain from the neck to the ankles; this will get joints warm and muscles ready for the workload. An example of a rotational warm-up is arm circles,” she said.
As for stretching, Biringer advises to do so after a workout.
“Stretching is important after your workout because you have usually contracted your muscles and made them short,” she said. “You then need to lengthen them, which makes them more pliable and helps to decrease the amount of lactic acid build up in the muscles.”
While the types of stretches one does after a workout may differ depending on which muscles were used, Biringer recommends anything from yoga stretching to basic stretches learned in high school physical education.
“Stretching relaxes the body; even doing yoga a couple times a week is very effective for an athlete and the occasional weekend warrior,” Biringer said.