The One Thing You Should Do Before Your Workouts But Probably Forget About
One habit that is very good for your workouts but isn't practiced very well? Stretching. I'm completely aware that stretching is so beneficial for flexibility and mobility and helps with recovery, but I often de-prioritize it. Post-workouts, I'm a sweaty, exhausted mess, so I might do a few stretches for a couple of seconds, but often, you can find me lying down on the floor of my apartment trying to catch my breath. I know. I'm trying to be better about it and have been adding a five-minute stretching routine to most of my workouts.
"Prioritizing stretching is important for all goals—even folks who are looking to increase athletic performance and strength can benefit from stretching," explains Felicia Csolak, a trainer at Equinox. "Most athletes are mobile, strong, and able to control their bodies throughout the entire range of motion they operate in. Avoiding stretching, which can reduce ROM (range of motion), may lead to injury and prevent an athlete from reaching their full potential."
So yes, that's even more reason for me to keep at it with my new post-workout stretching habit. But I also realized something recently that made me rethink my routine even more. Stretching before a workout is equally as important. It helps you get ready for the workout, which in turn could make it more effective. "Stretching before a workout primes and protects the body for the work ahead," says Dani Coleman, lead trainer at P.volve Los Angeles. "It allows the body to be flexible and for that flexibility to be used for the joints to maintain a range of motion. When your muscles are tight, it prevents them from extending to their fullest range, contributing to things like injuries and strains."
But before you start doing the same post-workout stretches before you start exercising, you should keep in mind that all stretching is not the same. It's the biggest misconception, Coleman says. "There are a few ways to stretch: dynamically, statically, passively, etc.," she explains. "There have been several studies that have shown that dynamic stretching pre-workout is more effective for the muscles than static stretching. However, static stretching at the end of the workout is great to help the muscles recover and the body to rejuvenate."
And when it comes to how much time you should dedicate to stretching before your workout, ultimately, it depends on your body's needs, but generally, it shouldn't take too much time. "Five to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching prior to working out is best," says Dani Schenone RYT, ACSM-CPT, a holistic wellness specialist at Mindbody. "Think of this as a warm-up for both the muscles and the heart. In general, for flexibility maintenance and care for the body, a minimum of two to three times per week of stretching is recommended. However, daily stretching is most effective, so that is my professional recommendation!"
As for whether you have to stretch before all workouts, the answer varies, but the experts I spoke to say it's beneficial. "Some professionals discourage stretching before workouts like strength training or running, as they think it impedes your ability to work at your peak capacity," Coleman says. "However, for me, I like to see each client's individual needs in front of me and the workout planned and decide from there. In general, I think stretching needs to be a part of your overall routine at some point. For instance, if you've been sitting at your desk all day, throw some upper-body stretches in to open up your chest and engage your back muscles. It's important the body has both the ability to strengthen and stretch itself to remain balanced."
Csolak adds that intense workouts (think sprinting, weightlifting, etc.) require less stretching than something that's more mobility-driven (think yoga). And you'll want to avoid bouncing or ballistic stretching, full stop. "Popular in the '80s and '90s gym classes, we now know these types of stretches should be avoided due to putting too much tension too quickly on the ligaments, tendons, and muscles themselves," she adds.
If you're ready to add stretches to your pre-workout routine, take a look at some ideas below.