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Should I Warm Up Before Stretching?

    We all remember when our gym teachers told us to warm up before playing sports. The routine usually involved some stretches and some light running. But is stretching the right type of warm-up? Should I warm up before stretching or after?

    You must warm up before stretching. A common misconception is that stretching is a type of warm-up. However, it’s the second part of a complete routine, consisting of general activities, stretching, and sport-specific activities. If you skip the first step, you risk injury and muscle strains. 

    Should I Warm Up Before Stretching

    This article will talk about why you should warm up before stretching.

    We’ll also discuss how stretching should fit into your overall routine and give you some ideas on what to include.

     

    Why Should You Warm Up Before Stretching? 🏃‍♀️

    Why Should You Warm Up Before Stretching

    The objective of a warm-up routine is to enhance performance and reduce the risk of injury.

    It gradually increases your heart rate and breathing. Moreover, it activates the appropriate muscles and preps them for the right movement patterns. 

    When you skip activities that trigger respiratory and cardiovascular systems in favor of stretching, your muscles don’t have a chance to become warm. Cold muscles have limited elasticity. In other words, they can’t contract or elongate sufficiently. So, you’ll be a lot more likely to pull a muscle. 

    If you consistently skip warming up your muscles before stretching, you risk acute muscle strain and injuries that last a long time. 

     

    How Long Should You Warm Up Before Stretching? 🤸‍♀️

     How Long Should You Warm Up Before Stretching

    You should spend ten to 20 minutes warming up before stretching. Five minutes for joint rotation and five to fifteen for aerobic activity. The exact duration depends on the activities you intend to do after warming up. 

    After warming up, your joints should move without friction, your heart rate should go up, and you should break a light sweat.

    However, don’t expend all your energy as you will become too hot and deteriorate your performance. 

     

    How Do You Warm Up Before Stretching? 🙆‍♀️

    How Do You Warm Up Before Stretching

    As mentioned earlier, the routine should consist of three components:

    • General activity: Joint rotation and light aerobic exercises.
    • Stretching: Dynamic stretches are preferred. 
    • Sport-specific activity: Target the main muscles activated during your main activity. 

    Let’s consider each of these in more detail. 

     

    Joint Rotation 

    Foot Joint Rotation

    Start your pre-stretching routine by rotating your joints.

    The circular movements release a lubricant known as “synovial fluid that cushions the ends of your bones and reduces friction.

    As a result, your joints will perform better, and you won’t experience any pain. 

    When performing the rotations, bear two things in mind: 

    • The circular motions must be in both directions: clockwise and counter-clockwise. 
    • The order is essential. Start with your toes and work your way up to the neck.
    • Then move on to your elbows, wrists, and fingers. Or go in reverse. 

     

    Aerobic Activity 

    Aerobic Activity

    Once you feel your joints moving smoothly and without friction, it’s time to get your heart rate up.

    The objective is to increase your body temperature and blood circulation to improve performance and flexibility while preventing injuries. 

    Go for a brisk walk or jog for five to ten minutes before you start stretching. 

    If you expect the workout session to be intense, spend around 15 to 25 minutes for general warm-up activities.

    For example, go biking. Other options include jumping jacks, squats, planks, and push-ups

    However, if you’re planning on a vigorous cardio session or sprinting, delay the stretching until the end for two reasons: 

    • Pre-event stretching may lead to suboptimal performance
    • Warmer muscles are easier to stretch, and the results will be longer-lasting.

    Here’s a helpful warm-up routine by Anna McNulty. You can follow along with her throughout the video: 

     

    Stretching 

    Stretching

    You need to do both static and dynamic stretches in this phase.

    Static stretches need to precede dynamic ones because they condition your muscles and decrease the risk of overstretching caused by dynamic stretches. 

    With static stretches, you stand or lie down and hold a single stretching position for maximum 45 seconds.

    On the other hand, dynamic stretches involve movements that engage the joints and muscles while increasing your heart rate. 

    Want to learn more about different types of stretching? Please read our guide on the various types of stretching here.

     

    Sport-Specific Activity 

    Sport-Specific Activity

    This part of your warm-up routine should mimic the movements you plan to do during your main activity and condition the appropriate muscles.

    For example, to prepare for an ab and core routine, focus on your core muscles, and activate your lower-body muscles during warm-up for leg day. 

     

    What Happens If You Stretch Before Warming Up? 🤔

    What Happens If You Stretch Before Warming Up

    Stretching before warming up won’t have catastrophic consequences unless you do it for a long time. Over time, the habit can cause chronic injuries, imbalance, and poor posture. 

    Doing dynamic stretches without warming up is more dangerous because the risk of muscle strain and overstretching is higher.

    However, static stretches aren’t risk-free either.

    According to a 2019 study, these stretches can decrease muscle performance when performed in isolation since you only hold a position for a while.  

     

    Tips to Keep Stretching Exercises Safe 🤓

    Tips to Keep Stretching Exercises Safe

    • Work on major muscle groups: Make sure to stretch all the large muscles in your body even if you won’t heavily use them during your workout. These include your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck, and shoulders. Stretch both sides equally. 
    • Never overstretch: If a position feels painful, you’re doing it wrong. Stretching should feel comfortable and relaxing. Don’t push yourself to the brink. 
    • Don’t rush it: Stretching only works if you give it time. Hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds up to 45 seconds. 
    • Avoid bouncing: Some people falsely believe that your muscles will lengthen more if you bounce through a stretch. That is not true, but the bouncing increases your chance of getting injured. 
    • Don’t forget to cool down: Stretching isn’t just for warming up. It can also promote muscle recovery. Do a few stretches after your main routine to slow down your heart rate and prevent injury. 

     

    Frequently Asked Questions ❓

    Are Stretching and Warming the Same?

    Are Stretching and Warming the Same

    Stretching should be part of your warm-up routine, but it can’t be all of it.

    In other words, stretching alone can’t count as a complete warm-up. 

    The right routine consists of general activity, stretching, and sport-specific activity. 

    The first stage conditions your muscles and increases your heart rate.
    The second stage enhances your flexibility, and the third stage prepares your target muscles for the activities you plan to do. 

    Never skip any of these stages to avoid injuries and muscle strain. 

    What Should I Wear in Stretching Sessions?

    What Should I Wear in Stretching Sessions

    You should wear a comfortable outfit that doesn’t restrict your movements.

    A polyester t-shirt with gym shorts is an excellent choice for men, while women can wear a snug top with a pair of leggings or yoga pants.

    Never wear jeans when stretching because you won’t have enough room to move your legs.  

    Learn everything you need to know about dressing for a stretching session in our complete guide. 

    Bottom Line 😎

    Put all excuses aside

    Stretching is part of a complete warm-up routine, but you should work on joint rotation and increasing your heart rate before you start stretching.

    Skipping the pre-stretching stage can cause your muscles to become injured.

    Dedicate five minutes to joint rotation and five to fifteen minutes to aerobic activity.

    Then start with static stretches to relax your muscles and move on to dynamic stretches to increase mobility. 

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    James Wright

    James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

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