People ask me all the time when is the best time to stretch? Well before digging into the best time to stretch let’s take a look at a couple different types of stretching.
The first way to stretch is what most people refer to as stretching. In this type of stretching often called passive stretching you simply focus on relaxing while you let the muscle lengthen.
The second way to stretch is where you actively take your body into a range of motion while keeping the muscles working. Yoga is often a great example of this.
So, why do I prefer dynamic stretching or moves that require strength as well as flexibility before your workout (think downward dog in yoga) to regular stretching where you just relax. Well, the truth is I actually like both however as with most things there is a time and a place for everything. So let’s get started.
When you stretch passively (the relaxy way) you do in fact increase the length of your muscle fibers. However in the last few years dozens of the top strength and conditioning coaches in the world have moved away from relaxed stretching before exercise because it actually seemed to make their athletes weaker!
One thing we know for sure is if you are weaker, then your performance while working out will suffer as well. So does stretching make you weaker forever?
Thankfully… no, within a short amount of time (there is a great debate as to how long) your muscles will return to their original strength and you will be back working out hard just like you were before. So if we can’t stretch before then when?
Before spilling the beans on the best time to stretch lets take a look at another common time that people are stretching, right after their workout. If you like stretching after your workout then that’s OK I am not trying to tell you what to do, just what I have found works best for actually increasing flexibility.
When your body is warm as you are when you finish a hard workout, you are more flexible then when you started. When you enter stretched positions and you body is warm the muscles although more flexible then when you are cold don’t actually remember the stretch as much. So when you try to return to that exact stretch when you are cold you do not have that same amount of flexibility.
This is why we use dynamic flexibility before exercise, because it helps loosen up the body but doesn’t reduce strength gains and it is a great way to warm up to reduce the risk of injury.
All right I can hear you grumbling, “Just tell me when the best time to stretch is!”
So here is a list of rules to help you identify the best times to stretch in your day:
- Always stretch separate from exercise. I like first thing in the morning or right before bed!
- If you want to stretch before exercise make sure you put a good warm up in between your actual stretching and you workout.
- Stretch at the time of day that you will most likely stretch. I know we are always looking for the best way to get the best results but the bottom line is if it’s not convenient for you then you probably won’t stick to it for long.