A question that we often get is “when should I stretch and for how long?”. This is a great question, because there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on the individual and their goals. For example, a 15 year old gymnast has different goals and external demands compared to a 54 year old cyclist. A track hurdler will require a bit more hip mobility than a tennis player. The comparisons could go on and on, but you get the idea.  So, let’s break down the purpose of stretching and how to properly do it, then you can determine how to best incorporate it into your life. 

Why should I stretch in the first place?

The main reason someone would want to stretch is to increase the range of motion of a particular body joint or region. Restricted motion in one area can feed into compensatory motions in adjacent areas, which can lead to overuse injury.  A good example of this is limited calf and achilles motion resulting in excessive strain placed on the bottom of the foot, which is being overly stretched to make up for the limited ankle flexion while walking, running, jumping, and navigating stairs. This can lead to a condition that many are familiar with, known as plantar fasciitis.  This is just one example, though the principles can be applied to the entire body. 

Should I stretch before or after activity?

Static stretching is best when performed on warmed-up tissue, so stretching after activity is what we recommend. Prior to activity, we recommend doing more of a dynamic stretching warmup to prepare the tissue and body for the stressful demands of that activity. This is a type of stretching that better prepares the body for the demands of running & jumping. Its primary function is to elongate tissue actively and repeatedly through the available range of motion in a controlled movement. We prefer this type of stretching over static stretching.

The bottom line

Will stretching have a dramatic effect on your body’s ability to perform or recover? Likely no more than other forms of dynamic activity. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Sometimes stretching just feels good. Check out the video below for some common stretches that can be performed to help commonly restricted tissues feel better.

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