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Stretching know-how

If you’re still doing those stretches you used to have to do in high school gym class, you may want to read on. The types of stretches recommended before and after a workout have changed. Keep from injuring yourself by doing the right ones.

Woman stretching

To stretch or not to stretch? When it comes to exercise, there is still some debate over the pros and cons of stretching before a workout, but many experts agree that you should do dynamic stretches before you work out and static stretches afterwards to help avoid injury and prevent muscle soreness. Not sure what each of those are? Here, we break down each type.

What are dynamic stretches?

Dynamic stretches — also called active stretches — warm up your muscles to help them get ready for the physical activity you’re going to participate in. They involve movement, ones that mimic the sport you’re about to do. So the dynamic stretches you’d do before going for a run, for example, would differ from the stretches you’d do before a yoga or dance class.

The idea is to get some light movement going in similar ways to how you would move in your sport. So a light jog or walking lunges are suitable before taking a run, for example. Dynamic stretches accelerate your heart rate, warm you up and help to get the blood flowing through your body.

What are static stretches?

Static stretches are the slow, calm ones most of us are more familiar with. They are held for a certain period of time. Not too long ago, static stretches were recommended before a workout, but research has shown they don’t provide any benefits. In fact, doing these types of stretches before a workout may actually be harmful, make you slower or weaker and could lead to injury. This is because your muscles are cold, and forcing them to stretch during your workout causes your body to tense up. Cold and tense muscles are more susceptible to snapping — that is, resulting in a pulled muscle.

Doing static stretches after working out, however, will help reduce muscle soreness. When doing a static stretch, it’s important to pay attention to your form: Don’t bounce (this may lead to injury, as bouncing can cause your muscle to contract during the stretch), and stretch only until you feel a slight pull (don’t push the stretch as far as you can go!). Hold static stretches for at least 30 seconds.

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