Stretching – Before, After or During?
Stretching helps improve range of motion, prevent injury and improve muscle balance.
Most of us sit for long periods of time which ends up tightening many of the following muscle groups: The hip flexor, pectoral minor, subscapularis, levator scapulae, forearms and many others depending on how you sit. If these muscles are tight and not being stretch it will eventually effect your posture and with bad posture comes bad form and with bad form comes bad muscle fiber recruitment.
So when should you stretch? Stretching is safely performed at the end of the day. Stuart McGill the leader in lower back pain said that the worse thing you can do for your lower back is early morning flexion of the spine. You want to make sure that your body is warm so after a workout is another great time to perform static stretching.
Static stretching before a workout will work against you. One study showed that static stretching before a workout can decrease power output anywhere from 5-30% (with the exception of the hip flexor in the vertical jump)! That's a big deal when your goal is to get stronger or to gain muscle.
A good strategy that has shown to actually helps increase power output is to stretch the antagonistic muscle (the opposite muscle group than the one your working during your workout). So if your working your biceps, it would be smart to stretch your triceps between sets.
Now I'm talking static stretching here which means holding a stretch for 15-30 seconds. On the other hand where static stretching slows down the nervous system making you more relax and weaker, dynamic stretching has shown great results in improving performance and making you stronger.
Dyanamic stretching is moving your joints in a full range of motion to help fire up the nervous system and help prepare the body for upcoming activity. Simply performing large circles with your arms will help for your upcoming bench press or leg swings, back and forth will help for your squat.
So the conclusion is this: light dynamic stretching before your workout, antagonistic stretches during your workout and static stretching of your tight muscles after your workout.
Behm DG, Button DC, & Butt JC. Factors affecting force loss with
prolonged stretching. Can J Appl Physiol 26(3):261-72 Jun 2001.