My whole life I’ve heard people warn me to stretch before exercising as a way to prevent injury. Maybe you’ve heard that too? So you can imagine my surprise when I was taught in chiropractic school that according to scientific research, stretching before excise does NOT have any protective effect. A quick internet search points to many studies confirming this.
So when is the best time to stretch? After exercise. Why? Because during exercise, your brain is telling your muscles to contract over and over again. In fact, the only message that your brain can send to a muscle is to contract. There is no “relax” signal. There is no message for “lengthen” or “stretch.” Stretching only happens by your brain telling another muscle, an antagonistic muscle, to contract. So after all those contractions, you’re likely to have built up residual tension.
I recommend countering muscle tension with gentle, rhythmic and frequent stretching after you exercise. If you have the time to stretch before and after exercise, go for it, but if you’re only going to do it once, afterwards is best. And what should you do before exercise? You should definitely start slowly. Ease into your exercise by doing a lower intensity version of it to “warm up” your muscles and the neurologic connection between your muscles and brain.
To read my advise about optimum technique, please see “Ideal Stretching Technique.”