When Should I Stretch?
Updated: May 9
When is the best time to stretch? The answer to that is both simple and complicated. (Yeah, don’t you love when questions get answered like that?) While most coaches can point to research that supports their opinion, I’d rather explore a little and consider the pros and cons of several different times.
Stretching first thing in the morning has great benefits. First, it aids in the waking process. Think about it: your body has been pretty stagnant during your 7-8 hours (hopefully!) of rest. A great way to jumpstart it is to stretch first thing. Ideally, you’re already relaxed, allowing you to lengthen the muscles to start your day. The only real hurdle to stretching when waking is routine – getting into the habit. Stretching early in the day is largely uncommon in today's society and may take some time to get used to.
My personal favorite time to stretch is in the shower. There has been quite a bit of research regarding stretching in warm water. Experience suggests - and research backs this up - that warm water aids in relaxation and allows the muscles to be more supple. Stretching in the shower is easy - it’s a private time where good thoughts are happening, and it’s pretty easy to fit in some stretches between body wash and shampooing. There are some inherent dangers, though. For instance, I’ve had a few close calls with slippery feet myself, so please be careful and don’t come crying to us if you slip.
Stretching whenever you have a break in your schedule is also a great way to improve your flexibility and overall health. If your working hours involve a lot of time but not a lot of movement (hello, desk job), taking a break to stretch can help counteract all that time spent stationary. Sitting for extended periods of time can lead to poor posture, stiffness, and lack of focus. Short stretch breaks help a lot with this. Stretching has been shown to increase circulation and reduce stress levels, making you feel more energized and focused throughout the day. However, there are some potential downsides to consider. Stretching during a break may not be as effective as a longer, more focused stretching session, and you may not have enough time to properly warm up your muscles beforehand. Begin slow and controlled with no bouncy or extreme motions. One concern is that stretching in a public area may make you feel self-conscious or uncomfortable and therefore discouraged. Don’t fall for this societal trap. Your body is your temple, and you can treat it as such wherever you please. Bottom line: taking short stretch breaks throughout the day is a great way to incorporate movement and relaxation into your daily routine.
Perhaps the most obvious time to stretch is as part of your fitness program. Stretching before and/or after training is a great way to start building the habit. One of the primary benefits of stretching before training is that it helps warm up the body, increasing blood flow to the muscles and preparing them for the workout ahead. The benefits are enhanced when these stretches are directly related to the movements done in the training session. Meanwhile, stretching after your workout helps the body recover by reducing muscle soreness and stiffness and promoting blood flow and relaxation. It can also help prevent future injuries by maintaining flexibility and range of motion. The muscles and tendons have already been worked, stretched, and warmed throughout the training session - post-workout stretching reinforces that.
Regardless of when you do it, stretching can help increase athletic performance by improving flexibility, which can lead to increased power and speed. It can also help reduce muscle fatigue, allowing athletes to perform at a higher level for longer periods. Finally, stretching can improve posture and balance, enhancing technique and preventing falls and other accidents both on and off the field of play.
Stretching is not all unicorns and rainbows, though. Overstretching, which is when you stretch past the point of discomfort to pain, can lead to injuries, particularly when an athlete uses poor form or pushes beyond their limits. Here it’s important to note that all stretching should be controlled and purposeful. Ever seen someone bouncing into a stretch to try and get further into the stretch? Can we all agree not to do this, please? Ease into and out of your stretches, know your position, and know your limits.
Because stretching is a crucial aspect of our overall physical health and well-being, stretching throughout the day is something everyone should do, not just athletes and fitness enthusiasts. The benefits of stretching apply to everyone, regardless of their level of physical activity, and those benefits compound over time. The more frequently and consistently we stretch, the more significant the benefits become. Regardless of when you do it, incorporating stretching into your daily routine can gradually improve your flexibility, range of motion, and even your posture over time. If you’re not already in the habit of stretching, start trying to develop one today. Motion is important, so keep stretching and keep moving!