Stretching: Before or After Your Workout?

Sophia is very flexible!

Sophia is very flexible!

Most fitness professionals agree that stretching is a worthwhile part of a well rounded exercise routine, but lately there seems to be a lot of debate about when to stretch.

For a long time, conventional wisdom held that stretching should be performed before your workout, as a means to loosen up the muscles.

The theory behind it being that tight muscles would prevent athletes from being able to perform at peak levels, and that loose muscles were also less likely to get strained. This is still common practice for many recreational athletes.

Men are generally less flexible than women.

Men are generally less flexible than women.

However, recent studies, like the one mentioned in this article from last years New York Times, have indicated that stretching prior to exercise can potentially loosen you up too much, thereby actually decreasing performance capabilities while increasing susceptibility to injuries. Go Figure.

Personally, I am not a big fan of stretching before a strength training or cardio session; stretching tends to have a calming effect on me, whereas I want to be amped up before a run or training session. Stretching at the end of a workout when my body temperature is already up and I am more relaxed has usually felt better for me.

I don't recommend you try this unless you're warmed up

I wouldn't try this without a warm up first!

On the other hand, stretching can be a means of warming yourself up. Flexibility is a cornerstone of yoga practice–and I am a big advocate of yoga (I do it myself, in fact). If you do like to stretch as a warm up, just be careful not to push your stretches too far at the start. You have to ease in.

Like I often tend to point out, there are so many different approaches and it’s up to you to figure out what works best for your body. I know a lot of people who want to just be told what to do without having to think, but I urge you not to take that path!

Pay attention to your body while you are working out and experiment with different approaches to see what feels right. Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to make mistakes; there aren’t always such clear cut distinctions between right and wrong. Case in point–this recent article from the Times suggests that having tight hamstrings could actually be beneficial!


For more information, pick up a copy of my new book, Stretching Your Boundaries.

8 thoughts on “Stretching: Before or After Your Workout?

  • By Ilana -

    I've always been a proponent of light stretching prior to a workout, and a more complete stretching routine following the workout.

  • By Al Kavadlo -

    Well, Ilana, thats just what I am talking about–you found what works for you. What about that routine do you like?

  • By Ilana -

    I've always been a proponent of light stretching prior to a workout, and a more complete stretching routine following the workout.

  • By Al Kavadlo -

    Well, Ilana, thats just what I am talking about–you found what works for you. What about that routine do you like?

  • By Mark Martinez -

    Okay, when it comes to weight training I'm at the gym big time. I've had some home equipment in the past, but I find it's the gym atmosphere that picks me up and gets me going (especially that I exercise right after work – just imagine the temptation to take a nap at that time!)
    Mark Martinez
    your creatine powder test lab

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  • By KC -

    I need improved hamstring flexibility for the L-Sit. How can I safely work at this over time? At the moment I am just sitting upright on the floor while watching television in the evenings and focusing on leaning forward to apply just the gentlest pressure to the stretch, holding this for several minutes and then relaxing and trying again.  

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Sounds good, KC – keep it up!  You might want to consider trying some yoga as well.

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