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These Are The Two Key Times Everyone Should Be Stretching

Because no, it’s not optional.

By Rachael SchultzFebruary 23, 2024

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You know you should stretch, but when you’re short on time, this work is usually the first thing to go. “Despite its importance, many people still struggle to make stretching a consistent part of their routine,” says Peloton instructor Logan Aldridge

Maybe you think stretching is boring, uncomfortable, or just plain optional. But when you skip stretching, you’re giving up improved range of motion during your strength or cardio session, a more efficient and effective workout, and a faster recovery with less muscle soreness.

Considering all its perks, we should really be thinking about stretching as a crucial cornerstone of our workouts, rather than accessory work. And it really doesn’t need to take up much of your time. “A little goes a long way when it comes to stretching,” says Romin Ghassemi, a North Carolina-based physical therapist at Movement X.

The good news: Both our experts say you don’t have to stretch every day. The bad news: You should be doing it before and after every workout. Below, learn more about how often you actually need to stretch—and the best way to incorporate it, with minimal time commitment.

The Benefits of Stretching

Before we get into the benefits, it’s important to note there are two main types of stretching:

  • Static stretching, where muscles are held in a stretched position for a period of time (aka, the traditional stretch-and-hold approach) like Pigeon Pose, supine single-leg stretch, and butterfly

  • Dynamic stretching, which involves moving the muscles and joints through a full range of motion in a controlled manner (i.e. stretch while moving), like inchworm walkouts, world’s greatest stretch, or arm circles 

When it comes to working either type of stretching into your routine, there’s one obvious benefit: “Stretching is important for all athletes and active bodies because it helps maintain flexibility and mobility, which are essential for optimal performance in any activity,” Logan says. In fact, a large 2023 meta-analysis in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found stretching can effectively increase range of motion (ROM), especially among women.

Less obvious may be that a regular stretching practice can directly lead to greater gains—and lower risk—in your workouts. You’ll get more out of your strength and cardio workouts if you can rotate more, squat and lunge deeper, or hinge further. Plus, studies show when stretching is incorporated into a dynamic warm-up, it can help reduce your risk of injury in the subsequent workout. One meta-analysis in Sports Medicine even found that consistent static stretching has the potential to improve muscle and strength in power in folks new to working out.

Another huge perk: Stretching can reduce post-workout soreness, called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). “Pre- and post-workout stretching directly help with muscle recovery by increasing blood flow to these areas, which can reduce soreness and stiffness post-workout,” Logan explains. 

The result: You’ll recover quicker and be able to get back to the next workout 100 percent, improving your gains and performance over time.

Stretching also holds major benefits for anyone dealing with tightness or stiffness, potentially from an old injury, sitting all day, or just genetic predispositions. Research shows static stretching offers short-term relief from any muscle-tendon stiffness, as well as potentially from pain, which can help performance going into a workout.

How Often Should You Stretch?

This sounds like a simple question. But the ideal amount of stretching to incorporate into your routine is very, very individualized, Ghassemi says.

The foundational advice, according to Logan, Ghassemi, and the American College of Sports Medicine, is that active folks should stretch at least three times per week. That could be pre-workout dynamic stretches, post-workout static stretches, as well as additional sessions focused on improving range of motion and flexibility, Logan points out.

But if you train really hard like powerlifting or marathon running, you’re older, or you have  chronic restrictions around a specific joint—stiff ankles, tight hip flexors—you’ll want to stretch more often.

On the flip side, some people are already very limber and may not need to stretch; instead, they’d likely benefit more from stabilization exercises, says Ghassemi.  

More important than how often you stretch is pairing the right kind of stretching with your activity and recovery (more detail on that below).

Overstretching: How Often is Too Often?

“In my clinical experience, it is unlikely that someone will stretch too frequently,” Ghassemi says. Hyper-flexible people may need to be careful to not overextend during stretching sessions, and for anyone, stretching shouldn’t ever feel painful. 

But as long as you’re strength training and doing cardio to create a well-rounded fitness routine, Ghassemi green lights stretching as often as you like. 

The Best Time to Stretch

So, should you stretch before or after a workout? Or first thing in the morning or before bed? Like Ghassemi said, you really can’t stretch too often, and the research shows static stretching can help loosen any muscle-tendon stiffness. If you feel stiff or achey, feel free to stretch in the morning or evening.

But both our experts (and the science) agree: Before and after a workout are the two key times everyone should be stretching.

Logan recommends doing this after every single workout, and we'd argue the same goes for dynamic stretching beforehand.

This is where the type of stretching you do—static vs. dynamic—really matters:

Stretching Pre-Workout

Before your workout, skip the static stretching, which may compromise your strength and power, Ghassemi shares. 

Instead, opt for dynamic stretching as a warm-up. Focus on the muscles and joints you’re about to be using—inchworm walkouts before you deadlift or squat, world’s greatest stretch before overhead presses or running. 

Research shows just five minutes of this can significantly increase localized range of motion and minimize stiffness for 90 minutes afterward. And for runners, a dynamic warm-up before you head out can improve your running economy—essentially, the efficiency of your running—especially if you struggle with flexibility.

Stretching Post-Workout

After a strength or cardio workout, target the large muscle groups that were just involved with static stretching, holding each for 15-30 seconds, Logan advises. This might look like Pigeon Pose after squats or running or forward folds and shoulder stretches after rowing or bench pressing. 

Post-workout, targeted static stretching can help decrease soreness and stiffness, Logan explains. It can also help bring the excitability of the worked tissue back down to a more normal resting state, faster, Ghassemi adds.

The Takeaway

Stretching is an important addition to a well-rounded fitness routine and you really can’t do it too often. Regular stretching can improve your range of motion and lower your injury risk going into a workout, as well as help reduce post-workout muscle stiffness afterward, helping you get back for your next workout quicker.

Stretching is also incredibly helpful if you’re coming off an injury or have tight hips or shoulders from sitting at a computer all day.

Most important is to focus on dynamic stretching as a warm-up before exercise (strength or cardio) and static stretching after a workout. Both should involve stretches that directly relate to the muscle groups you’re targeting in your workout.

If you feel tight or stiff, or you just like the relaxation of stretching, you can also incorporate static stretching as part of your daily routine to improve flexibility and functional range of motion.

And while you can stretch for as long as you like, Ghassemi says most research recommends holding a stretch for 3 reps of 30 seconds—which is only 90 seconds of your day.

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