With so many opinions out there about when you should stretch, I wanted to set the record straight and offer my expert advice on the most effective times to stretch during your fitness training program. By stretching the right way at the right times, you can greatly improve your performance and even reach your fitness goals faster.
Step 1: Warm Up!
No matter which fitness training program you’re following, you should always start with some kind of warm up.
Before you do any heavy lifting, you’ll want to do a set or two at a lighter weight before you start to activate your muscles. This helps prevent them from tearing when you lift heavy.
The only type of stretching I would recommend during your warm up is active, joint lubricating stretches, such as arm circles or waist circles, to get your blood flowing to your muscles and joints. I do not recommend doing static stretches before lifting weights because your muscles will lose some spring and you won’t be able to lift as much.
Step 2: Strength Training
Now that you’ve warmed up, it’s safe for you to do the weight lifting or strength training (link to Strength) portion of your fitness program.
Step 3: Cardio
If cardio is part of your workout routine, this would be the time to do it. If you do cardio before your strength training, you won’t be able to lift as heavy. If you do your cardio after you stretch, you’ll run the risk of losing the springiness in your muscles that lets you do things like sprint intervals without hurting yourself.
Step 4: Stretch!
You should always do your stretch exercises last. Whether you’re trying to maintain your range of motion from the muscle contractions performed during your workout, or you just want to gain more flexibility, a thorough stretch will be beneficial.
Depending on your goals, your stretching could consist of a number of different methods and different intensities. This is the ideal order to do different types of stretching (but you don’t necessarily have to do all of them):
Dynamic stretches – these gentle, swinging stretches are good while your muscles are still warm.
Static stretches – these involve holding the stretched position for a longer period of time.
PNF stretches – PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. These are the ones you often see pro athletes doing on the field with their trainers, or during rehabilitation. They’re designed to optimize performance and rehabilitate muscles.
Ballistic stretches – these are reserved for more advanced stretchers, and usually involve a bouncing motion.
Active flexibility stretches – these involve holding a position, such as lifting your leg, for a long period of time, to help increase active flexibility. Your active flexibility is never going to be as good as your passive flexibility, so by doing this at the end of your workout, you will have warmed up your passive flexibility to its maximum, so your active flexibility exercises can go the extra mile.
See For Yourself!
Try this fitness program sequence for yourself and see if you notice a difference in your results. Happy training!