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How to Choose the Right Stretches for Before and After Your Workout

If you were a kid in the 80s and 90s, you may remember doing sports warmups with stretches like “cherry pickers” or holding a position and counting out loud with the team for 20 seconds. These types of stretches were taught to us by coaches who had no clue about stretching, warming up, and cooling down. We were lucky if they knew anything beyond basic knowledge of the sport they were coaching! Oh, how stretching has come a long way with scientific evidence from the good old days.

As a Stretching and Flexibility Coach, my knowledge on stretching is more than the average volunteer coach and gym member. In this blog, I am going to share with you what recent science has determined are the best types of stretches for warming up, cooling down, and recovering. You may be surprised by what you learn, I was, and I have been a fitness professional since 2008. By the way, “cherry pickers” are not a good idea because of the potential injury factor of bouncing, and holding a stretch to warm up can be improved for better results.

The laws of physics state that a body in motion will stay in motion until an outside force acts upon it. A similar law applies to a body at rest that will stay at rest until another outside force acts upon it. We can use these laws as a reference point for the types of stretching done before and after an activity. Stretching is not solely about lengthening a muscle that has been or is getting ready to contract. Stretching also involves the nervous system and preparing it for action, a reduction in activity, or recovery.

Dynamic adductor (groin) stretching

Warming up before sports and exercise requires the nervous system to upregulate for movement. The brain sends signals to the muscles to get ready to contract and begins elevating the heart rate. Stretching before an activity needs to include controlled motion called dynamic stretching. Dynamic means in motion when we use the term in this way. Yes, “cherry pickers” are in motion; however, they are considered ballistic stretching and are only recommended to properly conditioned athletes after dynamic stretching is performed.

To upregulate the nervous system properly, you can use perpetual movement, contract/hold/contract method, or a controlled tempo of the basic stretches you already know. You want to perform any dynamic stretch in a way that will raise the heart rate slightly without causing injuries from sudden start and stop motions. For example, if you reach down to touch your toes with your feet together and hinging at the hip, you can count three seconds down and three seconds back up. Do this for three to four reps and one to two sets. Your nervous system is preparing the muscles and bones for movement without the fight or flight response kicking in.

Dynamic anterior tibialis (shin muscles) stretching

Dynamic stretching can be done for the muscles you are about to use for a sport or in a workout. You do not spend more than 5-10 minutes doing dynamic stretches for a gym workout. For a sport, you may spend a few more minutes depending on your conditioning, injuries, and intensity of the movements. When you start your workout or sport, your nervous system is ready for the movements and sends signals to the muscles and bones as you go through the workout or game. You reduce your injury potential, have more fun, and can perform at a higher intensity level.

The type of stretching most people are familiar with is static stretching, or holding a position for a certain length of time. The misconception is that static stretching is the ONLY kind of stretching and needs to be done before and after working out. While there is nothing wrong with some static stretching before an activity, it is better suited for post-workout and recovery sessions. Static stretching helps to downregulate the nervous system and lower your heart rate. When matched with slower, controlled breaths, static stretching can also improve your mindfulness and connection to your body.

Static hamstring stretch

When performing static stretching, you only need to hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds for one to two reps and one set. Stretch the muscles you just used for the workout to reduce soreness and inflammation. On your off days, you can take 5-10 minutes and static stretch the muscles you worked the previous day, or have been tight from being in a position like sitting for hours, or for a meditative session for emotional health. These off-day static stretching sessions can improve blood flow, increase the range of motion for your next day’s workout or sport, and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Static stretching is also great for older adults and beginners who do not know how to dynamic stretch safely. These populations still benefit from any type of movement that can motivate them to exercise more and/or at a higher intensity. A deconditioned person will elevate their heart rate simply by moving through a few stretches in a short session.

If you are interested in a customized assessment and stretching plan, email me at We can set up a Zoom assessment and make sure you have the right stretches for your goals and activities.

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