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Stretching Before or After Exercise: Which Is Better?

Stretch before and after your workouts for maximum benefits, but your pre-workout stretches should be different from your post-workout stretches

Person stretching on foam roller

Your earbuds are in, your shoes are laced up and you’re ready to exercise — but no need to stretch first, right? After all, many fitness gurus say you should avoid stretching before a workout.


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Not so fast, says orthopaedic surgeon Gregory Gilot, MD. That advice about skipping a pre-workout stretch isn’t what you might think and could lead to an injury.

Is it better to stretch before or after a workout?

For maximum benefits, it’s important to stretch before and after your workout. Yes, both. Despite online sources that say pre-workout stretching isn’t beneficial, this isn’t as clear-cut as it seems.

“An older study found that static stretching before a workout could reduce your athletic performance,” says Dr. Gilot. “That could be where this myth about stretching before exercise came from. However, the lower performance in this study only lasted a few minutes and didn’t affect people’s long-term strength or endurance.”

What’s more, newer studies have found that pre-workout static stretching may not harm your performance after all. It’s also important to note that the older study only dealt with static stretching — the kind where you extend through your joint and hold the stretch.

This is totally different from dynamic stretching, which uses active movements that warm up and stretch your muscles at the same time. With dynamic stretching, you move a muscle through its full range of motion — without stretching it to the max.

How should you stretch before a workout?

So, it’s OK to stretch before a workout? Yes. And you should — as long as you do it properly, says Dr. Gilot.

“Static stretches aren’t harmful if you stay within your body’s limits,” he clarifies. “Stretching shouldn’t hurt. And loosening up your muscles and joints before exercise is a good thing because it could help you avoid injuries.”

In general, your pre-workout stretches shouldn’t look like your post-workout cool-down.

“During your pre-workout routine, focus on dynamic stretching and only a few shorter static stretches,” advises Dr. Gilot. “This combination approach may be gentler on muscles that need to warm up. You can also try foam rolling, which helps ease tightness, lengthens muscles and can improve range of motion.”

Still, Dr. Gilot says that there isn’t one single stretching routine that will work for everyone. Some people can do more difficult static stretches before their workout. Others need to take it slower.

“Your stretching routine should be based on your fitness level and the activity you’re doing,” he notes.

How should you stretch after a workout?

After your workout, focus on maximizing your flexibility while your muscles and joints are warm. This is your golden opportunity to use static stretching for maximum benefits.

“Doing longer, static stretches after a workout helps lengthen your muscles and loosen joints,” explains Dr. Gilot. “A strong, flexible joint is a healthy joint — and less likely to get injured.”

After your workout, hold static stretches for 30 to 60 seconds each. Relax and breathe deeply through the stretch to send oxygen to your muscles.


You can also try passive stretching, which can help you get a deeper stretch. But just like with your warm-up, don’t stretch until it hurts.

“Even warm muscles can get strained from overstretching,” he warns.

What happens if I skip stretching?

Stretching is an underappreciated part of physical fitness. After all, it’s not where you’ll burn a ton of calories or build up those muscles. And frankly, we’re all short on time. Couldn’t we just skip it?

No, says Dr. Gilot.

“Without stretching, your muscles gradually become tighter and shorter,” he explains. “Shortened, stiff muscles are much more likely to be injured. The small amount of time you save from not stretching could end up sidelining you for several weeks.”

Also, being flexible is a natural joint pain reliever.

“Stretching helps relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis,” he continues. “Exercise combined with stretching is a great way to keep your joints healthy.”

When should you not stretch?

OK, so stretching is great for you. You can even do it when you’re not active, such as when you’re sitting at your desk all day. But there are a few times when you may need to skip stretching, like when you:

  • Are injured: If you’ve twisted, sprained, strained or otherwise injured yourself, don’t try to fix the problem on your own with stretching. “Stretching a damaged tendon or muscle can make the injury worse,” warns Dr. Gilot. “Instead, rest and ice the area and contact your healthcare provider. You may need to see a physical therapist, who can guide you through customized exercises and stretches to help you recover.”
  • Recently had surgery: Don’t return to your stretching or fitness program after surgery until your provider gives you the go-ahead. “It’s important to follow your provider’s instructions for surgery recovery,” emphasizes Dr. Gilot. “Your body needs time to heal, and doing activity too soon could set your recovery back.”

Stretching is your pre- and post-workout BFF

So, all that hype about not stretching before workouts is a bit of a misunderstanding.

“Getting some stretches in before and after exercise is beneficial,” reaffirms Dr. Gilot. “But whenever you’re in doubt, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you create an exercise plan that’s safe and effective for your needs.”


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