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Should You Stretch Before or After a Workout?

We Love Prof - AU > Sport > Personal Training > How To Stretch Before a Workout?

Remember your PE classes at school, where your sports teacher told you all to stretch after a session?

Let’s be honest – you often pretended, didn’t you?

And yet, it’s an essential part of any exercise routine!

Now that you are older, you understand the importance of stretching exercises after workout routines or any sort of athletic performance – whether you are a beginner or a professional.

Whether after an aerobic exercise, a Pilates session or a spot on the treadmill, whether you are exercising to lose weight or get fit: stretching is paramount!

But careful: to avoid injuring yourself, you need to know how to stretch correctly, for how long and with what intensity!

In this article, come and discover the advantages of having a personal trainer to prepare your fitness program, exercises and stretching routines. Having a personal coach will help keep you from injuries, even when stretching.

What Are the Benefits of Stretching Before or After a Workout?

First of all, what is stretching?

The Oxford dictionary defines “stretch (v.)” as “straighten or extend one’s body or a part of one’s body to its full length, typically so as to tighten one’s muscles or in order to reach something.”

During physical activities, our muscles are tensed and need to relax afterwards.

Stretches are meant to:

  • Release tension from the muscle
  • Lengthen it
  • Help it recover
  • Improve flexibility
  • And help keep it from injuries and muscle soreness

There are various ways personal trainers can help you learn how to stretch – there are different types of stretching for each muscle group.

Stretching sessions for your muscles

For example, you could go for stretching sessions at your local studio. This method combines soft gymnastics, passive stretching and yoga moves. Its aim is to relieve stiffness in the different muscle groups, for example in your lower body or thigh, increase the blood flow and provide relaxation for tense muscles and ligaments.

The benefits of stretching extend to all your muscles, whether glutes, quads or abs.

The right stretches are important. It’s important to know how and when to stretch properly so as to avoid injury to your muscles. Photo on Visualhunt.com

Stretching as part of a workout

There are different stretching techniques you can learn with the help of a fitness professional either in a gym or in the comfort of your home:

  • Active stretches: these come at the beginning of a session. Your personal trainer will show you stretches for warming up before your workouts. This dynamic stretching can benefit from its own exercise playlist to keep you motivated.
  • Passive stretches: your personal coach will show you the best stretches for lengthening the major muscle groups while leaving the muscle itself inactive.
  • Static stretches: with static stretching, you will be learning to stretch slowly and gently, breathing slowly and stretching on the exhale, holding the pose for up to 30 seconds or more, with short breaks in between.
  • Ballistic stretching: this method involves flexing one muscle through the inertia of rapid movements up to an extreme position that will provoke a contraction reflex. Careful: this kind of stretching routine should be done carefully. Your personal trainer can show you how it is done and support you while you loosen up with these stretches.

The Health Benefits of Stretching

Let’s take a moment to appreciate all the benefits of stretching correctly:

  • Against stiffness in the joints: doing sports puts your muscle tissue under a lot of strain. Your personal trainer will show you exercises to fight knee pain and other stiff joints.
  • Injury prevention: a very flexible and athletic person might be able to affect the full range of motion without reaching their limit, even without a hamstring stretch or a calf stretch. But stretching before a workout allows you to warm up your muscle and have access to your muscles’ full potential for your walking lunges or other strenuous exercises.
  • Increase flexibility to truly target the muscle group you want to work. If you are lacking in flexibility, many of your movements will only be approximating since your body will be compensating for your lack of mobility by including other muscle zones than the one you want to work on.

How To Stretch Before Workout

Stretching after a sports session allows your muscles to relax and prevents soreness the next day.

But at what point in the workout should you stretch?

After a dynamic warm-up and a good training session, a stretching exercise is needed to loosen your muscles so they can recuperate afterwards and improve your general physical condition.

Any athlete, runner or practitioner of strength training knows how to reduce tension and be more relaxed outside of practice and competitions: stretch.

However, it is best to wait about fifteen minutes after a physical effort so your body can cool down a bit. Your trainer will show you various dynamic and passive stretches – from having you bend forward to touch your toes to stretches for the groin or lower back.

Also, numerous studies have shown that it’s best not to stretch too much before doing sports, whether you are practising inside the comfort of your home or at a local club.
You can do warm-ups with your personal trainer, but don’t lengthen your muscles too much – you can injure them with strenuous stretches.

Whether they are simple or complicated, your trainer should always explain just what a particular stretch accomplishes.

Firstly, your personal trainer will need to show you the most common warm-ups and poses for the beginning of your coaching sessions.

Repeat the flexibility exercise several times; your coach will be at your side to make sure you have the correct posture and that the right muscles are being warmed up and stretched.

In fact, some types of stretches will not activate the right muscles if they are not done correctly. Your personal trainer will need to be very aware of your movements to make sure you are not injured.

During your training sessions, stretching should be taken as seriously as the cardio exercises, weights or jogging training you are there to do.

Some simple stretches to incorporate into your daily routine

Here is a list of stretches for specific body parts:

  • For your calves: facing a bench, put your left foot on the back of the bench or chair, lift your arms up to the sky, as high as possible. Hold the pose for 15 to 20 seconds, then switch feet to stretch your other calf muscle.
  • For the groin: squat down with your hands on the floor, then extend your right leg towards the side, keeping your right foot flat on the ground. Do this one leg at a time.
  • For your knees and forward thighs: stand up with your feet together, raise your heel toward your buttocks then take your foot with your right hand and pull on your foot until it touches your butt. Hold for 30 seconds. Careful, your bent knee should stay next to the left knee.
  • For your buttocks: sit down and stretch your legs out in front of you. Bend the right knee, pull it towards you and place your right foot on top of your left thigh.  Move your head left and right (this accentuates the benefits of the stretch). Push on your knees to notice the benefits of this pose.

Stretch your knees with this exercise. This exercise stretches the knees and relaxes the muscles in your legs. Photo on VisualHunt.com

How Best to Stretch – Before a Workout or After

Stretching with a sports trainer or sports therapist is a good idea. He or she will be there to assure injury prevention and make sure you stay pain-free.

One thing is sure: you should never stretch before warming up! It serves no physiological purpose.

The benefits of stretching can’t be felt unless the muscles are warmed up first. Warming up makes it easy to relieve muscle tightness while preventing tears in the muscles or ligaments by raising your body temperature and improving circulation.

After a workout session, it’s a good idea to do passive stretches to relax the muscles you used. A stretch routine ensures that tight muscles are relaxed to minimise the trauma of lifting weights, running a marathon or endurance training.

When stretching, make sure your movements are precise and pay attention to what you are doing. A personal trainer can help you with that.

So how can you stretch correctly with the help of your personal trainer?

  • Your stretching session should last about 10 minutes.
  • Gradually ease into the stretch pose; don’t strain yourself. Use only your own body weight. Your personal trainer will tell you when you have stretched far enough – the stretches should not feel painful.
  • Always stretch on the exhale – your personal trainer will teach you mindful breathing methods.
  • Calm your mind and avoid hectic movements. Stretch slowly and evenly.
  • For stretching exercises on the floor, close your eyes. This encourages muscular relaxation and lets you concentrate on what your body is telling you.
  • Always hold on to something during stretches that need you to balance on one foot. Losing your balance can strain your muscles rather than relaxing them.
  • Take 10 or 15 seconds after your stretching session to relax your limbs. Do meditation or mindfulness exercises, or simply listen to some music to cool down and come back into the here-and-now.

Use aids for stretching to increase flexibility. Your personal trainer can show you how to avoid injury when stretching – for example with the aid of fitness bands if you are not very flexible yet. Photo credit: bwanderd on VisualHunt.com

Listen to your personal trainer and don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about how or why a certain stretch is done a certain way. They will also help you measure your progress and tell you how best to achieve your fitness goals.

Learn How To Stretch Before a Workout With These Videos

The Internet has millions of videos all eager to teach you how to stretch.

Indeed, when exercising outside of your personal training sessions, you might want to use a video to help you with your stretches.

Like a personal trainer, the video trainer will be able to demonstrate the different movements to help you stretch.

Here are some sites that offer online personal training:

  • Doctissimo: they have their own YouTube channel; different trainers offer various exercises and of course stretches. The exercises are presented in a very detailed manner.
  • Coach Fitness: offers stretching, yoga and relaxation exercises. This website offers online stretching videos with dozens of exercises and methods for cooling down after a sports workout.

But remember: video or virtual trainers can’t offer feedback!

10 Tips for a Full Body Stretch After a Workout

By now, you know it: stretching is invaluable for your muscle’s recuperation.

Cats stretch all the time. If anyone knows the benefits of stretching, it’s a cat. Photo credit: JKleeman on Visual hunt

Here are 10 tips to help you stretch properly, alone or in a personal coaching session:

  • Dress properly. Just like doing sports, stretching requires comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely.
  • Listen to your personal trainer: follow his advice and ask him if you don’t understand it.
  • Let your personal trainer know if you are hurting.
  • Breathe deeply: diaphragm breathing helps you relax and loosen your body.
  • Drink: it’s important to stay hydrated, even when stretching
  • Don’t strain yourself: flexibility will come with time, but not if you injure yourself!
  • Alternate exercises: to cool down and relax your muscles after a sports session, you can alternate between stretching, yoga or relaxation
  • Stretch your whole body: your personal trainer will know how to stretch every muscle in your body
  • Don’t hesitate to consult an osteopath or physical therapist
  • Make sure the environment encourages relaxation – listen to calming music rather than hip hop, try to stretch and relax in a place without too much noise.
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