Updated: Oct 21, 2018
Is Stretching Important? And If So, Which is More Important, the Warm Up or Cool Down?
We’ve all heard the gospel about stretching and how it’s absolutely imperative that you stretch before and after working out. But is this actually true? YES, yes and yes!
It is our belief that stretching both before and after a run or workout will help improve your range of motion, joint and ligament alignment, increase blood flow to your recovering muscles and strengthen your connective tissues. All of which are vital when it comes to muscle remodeling.
Most exercise enthusiasts are under the impression that stretching is key for recovery, which leads to many varying opinions when it comes to the how’s and when’s of stretching. Stretching is actually most important for muscle remodeling. Muscle remodeling is when your body adapts to meet the needs of the physical demands placed on it by changing muscle structure, physiology (how the muscle functions) and metabolism. It is through muscle remodeling and these changes that we’re able to reap the amazing benefits of running and exercise.
One of the many benefits of muscle remodeling is the improved range of motion. Range of motion (ROM) is HUGE for runners. Having a wide range of flexibility and motion within your hips, knees and ankles is crucial to completing the running motion. When you have limited ROM your body is unable to obtain the maximum gait, or step, causing imbalances and decreases in speed. We get our speed from our running gait. The bigger the gait, the faster your speed.
So now that we’re all clear on why stretching is important let’s discuss which is more important, the warm up or the cool down? Do you really need to do both? The answer again is YES! Warming up prepares your body for the work you’re about to ask it to do and the cool down gives it time to reset and begin the remodeling process.
In reality, the warm up may be slightly more important than the cool down as it wakes your body up and prepares it for exercise. If you jump right into your fitness routine without warming up you risk pulling, tearing or other injuries to your ligaments, tendons and muscles. Just because the warm up holds a slightly higher standing than the cool down does not mean that the cool down should be tossed to the wayside. As mentioned before the cool down returns your body to a resting state and tells your body its time to calm down. Once calm it can begin focusing on muscle remodeling which is where the magic happens.
We all now understand that it’s essential to warm up and cool down and why so here are some tips on how to do both. Warming up should be a dynamic movement. What I mean by dynamic is that you move through motions that mimic the movements of your upcoming workout and literally start warming up your muscles. For example, if you’re going to be doing Weighted Bulgarian Lunges you’ll want to warm up with some basic Walking Lunges with a reach up and stretch.
Your cool down should be a more static stretch which entails holding a stretch for 30+ seconds. This will help relax your muscles and bring them back to normal length. Aim for 10-15 minutes spent on your warm up and cool down. The more intense the workout the more time you’ll want to spend stretching before and after.
If you know Yoga, do it. If you don't know Yoga, find a class and try it. It can be a great way to limber up for you runs. Also, if you haven't tried a foam roller for stretching, you are missing out. Click on the picture below to learn more about each.