Stretching is necessary. Stretches promote a bigger range of movement in a specific joint; they help to reduce tension caused by the movements; they help prevent possible injuries caused by physical effort; they allow the relaxation of muscle fiber and leave the muscles more flexible so hat, in the next day, they can handle the load of the workout. Stretching also helps to prevent late muscle pain.
Although there’s a generalized opinion on the relevance of stretching, there’s a lot of controversy around this question. Some regard to the topics we’ve already mentioned, mainly the efficiency of the stretches when it comes to preventing injuries; some to the length of the exercise for each muscle group, etc. As with everything in sports, there are people with different opinions. The best thing to do is to get to know your body so you can know which methods to adapt to your own needs.
It is generally known that, after the physical activity, stretches are fundamental to relax the muscle tonus and to help with the recovery process. However, the timing to perform these stretching exercises varies with the type of the workout. After the aerobic workout, stretching can be performed immediately, because muscle contraction in that type of workout is usually low. When it comes to anaerobic workouts, stretches should be performed with a 15 to 20 min break. The muscle contraction is bigger, so, during that period of time, muscles should relax and get back to their natural tonus.
Should you stretch before your weight workout to prepare the muscles and joints for the effort or is it better to stretch after the workout, to keep flexibility in the muscles?
The preparation for extremely demanding exercises, like weight exercises, comprises stimulating and warming up every muscle group you are working. So, you should do a pre-warm up (walk/run or ride a bike for about 10-20 minutes) before starting your workout, because you will get better results when your muscles get more stimulation. Besides that, start by executing exercises of the weight training program with a lower load, gradually increasing ‘till you get to the load you want. That will work as a warm up complement and it will be enough to prepare the joints.
The increase of body temperature makes joint tissue acquire more elasticity. In the same way, neuromuscular stimulation allows faster reactions of contraction and muscle relaxation. Both the elasticity and the stimulation of muscle fiber will decrease the chances for the occurrence of injuries. In theory, stretching before an anaerobic workout may reduce the stability of the joints and increase the chances of performing an inadequate movement that leads you to contracting an injury, so warming up is the most recommended method.
When it comes to stretching exercises, after a session of weight workout, they allow muscle relaxation after the physical effort they have faced.
After working out, stretching positions should never be taken to an extreme, because the muscles present a “shortage” due to the overload suffered during localized exercises. Besides that, everyone has their own extension limit.
You should stretch every muscle group at the end of the workout in a slow and calm way (so you can pay attention to the way your body reacts to it), keeping a correct posture, avoiding balancing the body while breathing slowly. The length of each exercise may vary:
– Light stretch: 20 to 30 seconds per joint
Light stretches reduce muscle stiffness and prepare the tissue for progressive stretches. Fell a light tension and relax, maintaining the stretch.
– Progressive stretch: 30 seconds or more per joint
Progressive joint stretching regulates muscles and increases flexibility. Insist a little bit longer in the stretch until you feel a light tension and keep the stretch for a few seconds.
Some studies point out that one stretch per muscle group should take about 15 seconds (minimum) and 45 seconds (maximum). Less than 15 seconds will not be effective and over 45 seconds may harm muscle performance in activities performed immediately after stretching.
The best thing to do is to always stretch in such a way that you will work your main limbs before starting your workout, whether it’s cardio or weight training, and to do your stretches at the end of the workout, when your muscles have more elasticity due to the temperature.
Turibio Barros, Alongar antes ou depois de fazer exercício?, 22nd of January 2013, translation and adaptation of the original version
Simone Herdina, Qual a importância do alongamento após a musculação?, 3rd of February 2011, translation and adaptation of the original version