Locations:
Search IconSearch

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.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

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.

Advertisement

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.”

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Health Library
Aerobic Exercise

Related Articles

Person on walking pad in living room, with TV on
July 3, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Here’s How To Make the Most Out of the ‘Cozy Cardio’ Trend

It’s not the only exercise you should do, but this gentle way to get active can help you get out of a workout slump

Person using rowing machine in home gym
June 27, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Catch, Drive, Finish and Recover! The Top 7 Benefits of Rowing Machines

This low-impact, full-body workout builds strength and stamina while reducing stress

Healthcare provider checking patient's knee
June 19, 2024/Chronic Pain
Arthritis Exercise: What To Try and What To Avoid

Exercising can actually improve arthritis symptoms — and low-impact exercises are best

Person doing a Bulgarian-split squat outside
June 17, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
10 Squat Variations To Add to Your Workout

Bulgarian split squats, hack squats and goblet squats are just a few of the moves you can try

Older person smiling, taking in the outdoors
June 13, 2024/Mental Health
Put Intention Behind Your Walking Meditation

While walking, be mindful of your body, your mind, your place in the world and all five of your senses as you pave a path forward, one step at a time

Person in a deep squat
June 13, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Here’s the Right Way To Do a Squat

Squat smart with proper technique, including a neutral spine, wide knees and an engaged core

People in gym doing cool down stretches
June 10, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Why You Shouldn’t Skip Cool Down Exercises

This important step gives your body time to return to its resting state while reducing muscle cramps, dizziness and injury

Person walking dog and person running in a park, with person sitting on a bench
June 5, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Walking vs. Running: Which Is Better for You?

The short answer? The best exercise is the one you’ll actually do

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad