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Do I Need to Stretch Before and After a Workout?

Yes, Experts Say You Do Need to Stretch Before AND After a Workout

Photographer: Rima BrindamourRestrictions: Editorial and internal use only. No advertising, no print.

Finding the energy to make it to the gym or a workout class is sometimes hard enough without the added expectation of stretching before or after. Touching my hands to my toes or twisting my body left and right is the pre- and post-workout step that I always forget — fine, or just totally skip because who has the time or energy? Sadly, I don't have that luxury anymore. As I've gotten older and the fitness classes I take have become harder, I've started to notice that without a good stretch session, my body cramps up and feels tighter than ever the next day.

Ready and in need of making stretching part of my workout routine, I found myself wondering how long should I really take to stretch and if I should do the same for every workout. Turns out you don't need that much time, and I'm out of excuses.

Steph Wilberding, founder and lead trainer at HK Fitness, said you only need to add a few minutes of stretching before and after taking a class or going hard at the gym. "It will not only help you in your workouts, but it will also help with recovery," Wilberding said.

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You can go easy, she added: "If you're already super flexible, work on finding stability in that range of motion rather than working on more flexibility." But you should still aim to work your entire body, even if you're just focusing on one body part during your workout. "Taking a holistic approach is great by stretching and mobilizing the entire body. If you are focusing on a specific area, you could definitely isolate your work there a bit more, but don't leave the other parts out."

So what can kind of stretch should you do? Armen Ghazarians, personal trainer and the CEO of Finish Fit, said dynamic stretches (those that involve movement) should be done before a workout to loosen up things, and static stretches should be done after, because those moments help with overall flexibility and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Here are a few stretching sequences you can practice for three popular workouts:

Running

When you go for a run, prepping your body for the pavement is important. Dr. Alexia McClerkin, a chiropractor and founder of 9 Months of 5K, said that when it comes to running, you want to get your body up and moving for at least five to 10 minutes prior to your workout. "I recommend stretching the major muscles in your legs with a light jog," she said. You can also try a fun yoga sequence.

After, McClerkin said, you can pretty much do any stretching move, but the key is to not rush to sit down. "You always want to do 10 to 15 minutes of cool down to allow your heart rate to come down" and your muscles to stay loose.

Weight Training

Before you pick up the dumbbells and pump some iron, McClerkin recommends a combination of dynamic and static stretches. She's a proponent of warming up your full body by taking a 10-minute jog on the treadmill or hopping on the elliptical, then following with stretches that target the muscles you're looking to weight train that day, like chest openers if you're working your shoulders and a pigeon twist for your quads.

Dance

Dancing is a full-body workout that gets every part of you engaged in movement, and because of that, Darren Jacobson, the senior vice president of instructor programming for Zumba Fitness, said that doing dynamic movement stretches as a warmup is the best way to prepare your body.

"Allowing the body to move through full range of motion in the warm-up for four to six minutes creates the blood flow, muscle elasticity, and elevated heart rate that prepares the participant for the demands of the class ahead," Jacobson said. "Similarly, a slower dynamic cooldown of around four to six minutes with some static stretching at the end of the cardio dance workout allows the heart rate and breathing to return to normal levels."

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Rima Brindamour
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