While a lot of gym-goers neglect to stretch, most people know that stretching
is good for you—at least in a nebulous, “I used to stretch
in P.E.” type of way. Particularly health-minded people will remember
to touch their toes or stretch their quadriceps before a workout, but
stretching is often seen as a nit-picky chore before the “real”
However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Stretching is as crucial as any exertion you put your body through because it
allows that exertion to occur effectively and without causing you injury. However,
not all stretching accomplishes the same goal. The two types of stretching,
dynamic and static, both involve different movements and are most beneficial
at different times during your workout.
Static stretching is any stretch where you elongate your muscle to its
fullest extension (usually until you feel slight discomfort), then holding
that position. When people think of stretching, this is the kind of stretching
they’ll envision—toe touches, pulling the arm across your
chest to stretch your shoulder, etc.
Static stretching engages tension receptors in your muscles, which results
in relaxed, looser, and elongated musculature afterwards. While it’s
initially uncomfortable, the fact that it relaxes the muscles allows it
to provide a small measure of pain relief.
Dynamic stretching involves movements that replicate the movement you’ll
be doing during your workout. The idea is to extend your body in motion,
repeatedly, to mimic the motion of your exercise. This allows blood to
flow to your limbs in that area before you begin, and it “warms
up” your nervous system’s motor skills while raising your
body temperature in preparation for high levels of exercise.
One example of dynamic stretching would be swinging your legs backward
and forward before doing leg exercises—warming up the glutes, quadriceps,
and hamstring. Remember that dynamic stretching is not about how far you
can extend your body; it’s about mimicking your exercise, so only
extend up to where your exercise movement will extend.
Preventing Injury vs. Preventing Soreness
So, looking at these two forms of stretching, they both have clear advantages.
In reality, gym goers should be utilizing both forms of stretching to
maximize their fitness and minimize their injury risk. However, if a person
has to choose a way to stretch that’s more beneficial for them before
a workout—they should use dynamic stretching.
prepares the body for working out. Without dynamic stretching, people run the risk of trying to do explosive
or difficult movements on cold muscles—this can result in more
strain than strength-building. Increased blood flow, maintained body temperature,
and warmed-up motor skills means an athlete can exert themselves without
fear from beginning to end.
Static stretching, however, is not by any means
bad for you. It relieves pain, extends and relaxes muscles, and creates looseness
in the body. These are all terrible things when it comes to the beginning
of the workout—but they’re amazing at the
end. Static stretching at the end of your workout can actually reduce both the
intensity and time of your muscle soreness. This allows you to return
to your workout or sport with less discomfort and more readiness to tackle
Again, we’d like to stress—both types of stretching are good,
as long as you understand what you’re doing to your body and why.
Dynamic stretching is by far the better pre-workout stretching option.
Health trainers and sports experts are beginning to understand the benefits
of dynamic, “warm” stretching over cold stretching. However,
static stretching still has its place when you’re done with your activity.
In any case, now you know—stretching is
much more complex and important than simply doing toe touches before a long
session of physical exercise. Make sure you give yourself time to thoroughly
prepare yourself for a workout, and your time spent in the gym will be
far more effective and injury-free.