When Should I Stretch?
by Michael J. Velsmid, DPT, MS
Our patients often ask us when they should stretch, before or after exercise. It seems that everyone has a different opinion on this. You see athletes stretching as part of their warm-up. Trainers will tell you to spend fifteen minutes stretching after cardiovascular exercise in the gym. Every fitness magazine has publicized articles with recommendations of supposed experts. It can all be very confusing.
There are a couple of things you need to know. First, there are different ways and times to stretch for different purposes. There are different reasons for stretching. That is why you will find such a variety of information on stretching.
It does not need to be so confusing. If you need to stretch, it is because some muscle and tendon group has become shorter that it should be. In order to make whatever problem that arose from that shortened muscle and tendon group go away, you need to make it longer. You make it longer by stretching. Exercise and activity over a long period of time will make it shorter.
So, should you stretch before or after exercise? Remember what I said, “ Exercise and activity over a long period of time will make it shorter.” The key phrase is, “over a long period of time.” So, it is not so important to stretch before or after activity as related to your goal of making the muscle and tendon group longer.
The most important aspect of stretching is frequency and effectiveness. Quite simply, in order to make the muscle and tendon group causing your problem longer, you need to stretch them often. My recommendation is to stretch hours before or after exercise and especially on alternate days. I also recommend that you stretch often. Figure out what is the most important stretch and do it several times a day.
If you need help determining what stretches are the most important for you, please contact us.
Dr. Velsmid is a Physical Therapist at Boston Sports Medicine