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When Is the Best Time to Stretch During an Exercise Routine?

Published September 10, 2018 (Revised: September 27, 2019)
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

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<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@type":"BlogPosting", "headline":"When Is the Best Time to Stretch? How and Why", "datePublished":"September 10, 2018", "description":"When is the best time to stretch: before or after exercise? At night or first thing in the morning? Here’s what the science says.", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/09/senior-woman-stretching-morning-waking-up-thumbnail-0001.jpg" }, } ] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">When is the Best Time to Stretch?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">Different Types of Stretches</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">How Much Should I Stretch?</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">Is it Better to Stretch Before or After Exercise?</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">Is it Better to Stretch in the Morning or at Night?</a></li> <li><a href="#section6">Wrap-Up—When is the Best Time to Stretch During an Exercise Routine?</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>Stretching any time of day increases joint flexibility, or your ability to do things like bend, reach, and move. Like <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/7-low-impact-cardio-exercises/" rel="noreferrer">cardio</a> or <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/functional-strength-training/" rel="noreferrer">strength training</a>, mobility is an important part of any fitness routine.</p> <p>But when is the <i>best time</i> to stretch during an exercise routine? Morning or night? Before or after exercise?</p> <p>Here you’ll find what the science says about why, when, and how you should work on your flexibility.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-hip-flexor-stretch-lower-body-0001.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-hip-flexor-stretch-lower-body-0001.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-hip-flexor-stretch-lower-body-0001.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-hip-flexor-stretch-lower-body-LR-0001.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="woman-hip-flexor-stretch-lower-body"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"When is the best time to stretch?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":"The best time to stretch is when your muscles feel tight or stiff, you want to relax, or to improve circulation."}}]}</script> <h2>When is the best time to stretch?</h2> <p>The best time to stretch is when your muscles feel tight or stiff, you want to relax, or to improve circulation<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3975999/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a></sup> <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2197297" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup> <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29623692" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a></sup>.</p> <p>Some good times to stretch are:</p> <ul> <li>Before and after exercising (doctors recommend performing a gradual warm-up before exercise, which may include stretches <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/ask-the-doctor-stretching-before-exercise" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup> <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5412499/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a></sup></li> <li>On a rest or active recovery day</li> <li>Before bed or first thing in the morning</li> </ul> <p>There are different types of stretches, and when you should do them varies by type.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/surfer-outdoor-oecan-arm-stretches-shoulder-0001.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/surfer-outdoor-oecan-arm-stretches-shoulder-0001.jp2" type="image/jp2"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/surfer-outdoor-oecan-arm-stretches-shoulder-0001.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/surfer-outdoor-oecan-arm-stretches-shoulder-LR-0001.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="surfer-outdoor-ocean-arm-stretches-shoulder"> </picture> <h2>Different types of stretches</h2> <p>Stretching means improving flexibility by increasing a joint’s <i>range of motion</i> (ROM) <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://westporty.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Stretching-Guidelines1.pdf" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a></sup>. There are 4 different types of stretches <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/stretch-before-exercising/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">7</a></sup>:</p> <ul> <li><b>Static stretches:</b> stretching and holding the muscle(s) until you feel a gentle tug or pull (to the point that it’s mildly uncomfortable, but not physically painful). Typically held for 30 or more seconds. <ul> <li><i>When to use</i>: after workouts, in the morning, or before bed</li> <li>Example: touching your toes, pec stretch on a door</li> </ul> </li> <li><b>Dynamic stretches:</b> stretching that incorporates movement, usually gentle and repetitive in nature. The goal is to increase blood flow while gradually increasing ROM. <ul> <li><i>When to use</i>: during a warm-up, when preparing for a certain exercise (i.e., arm circles loosen up your pecs for pushups)</li> <li>Example: ‘butt kickers’, arm circles</li> </ul> </li> <li><b>Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF):</b> often done with a partner, PNF stretching has 2 phases—contracting and relaxing. The contract phase is typically a static stretch held for 5 to 10 seconds. The assisting partner releases the tension, and the person being stretched exhales and relaxes. Another contracting phase immediately follows, slowly increasing ROM each time. <ul> <li><i>When to use</i>: after workouts, with a partner</li> <li>Example: partner hamstring stretch</li> </ul> </li> <li><b>Ballistic stretches:</b> similar to dynamic stretches but performed with more of a ‘jerking’ motion. This is a more aggressive form of dynamic stretching. Make sure you do a long warm-up or save ballistic stretching for after workouts, so your muscles are looser and less prone to injury. <ul> <li><i>When to use</i>: limit ballistic stretching to after workouts only</li> <li>Example: leg swings, torso twists</li> </ul> </li> </ul> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"How much should I stretch?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":"According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), you should stretch 2 to 3 days per week after a proper warm-up.\n\nACSM’s guidelines recommend stretching the major joints like the hips, shoulders, lower back, and chest. Each major joint should be stretched for between 60 and 90 seconds using any combination of the 4 different types of stretching described above. 90 seconds of stretching can increase ROM by up to 30 percent."}}]}</script> <h2>How much should I stretch?</h2> <p>According to the <a target="_blank" href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/Fulltext/2016/09000/Flexibility_Exercises_and_Performance.4.aspx" rel="noreferrer"><i>American College of Sports Medicine</a> (ACSM)</i>, you should stretch 2 to 3 days per week after a proper warm-up.</p> <p><i>ACSM’s</i> guidelines recommend stretching the major joints like the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/5-exercises-for-hip-pain" rel="noreferrer">hips</a>, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/2-easy-shoulder-stretches-to-increase-mobility/" rel="noreferrer">shoulders</a>, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/best-at-home-exercises-for-lower-back-pain" rel="noreferrer">lower back</a>, and chest. Each major joint should be stretched for between 60 and 90 seconds using any combination of the 4 different types of stretching described above. 90 seconds of stretching can increase ROM by up to 30 percent <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/Fulltext/2016/09000/Flexibility_Exercises_and_Performance.4.aspx" rel="nofollow noreferrer">8</a></sup>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-leg-stretch-abductors-hamstring-side-0001.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-leg-stretch-abductors-hamstring-side-0001.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-leg-stretch-abductors-hamstring-side-0001.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-leg-stretch-abductors-hamstring-side-LR-0001.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="woman-leg-stretch-abductors-hamstring"> </picture> <script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"Is it better to stretch before or after exercise?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":"Stretching before and after exercise can be beneficial. Doing either may reduce your risk of injury during physical activity 9. But the type of stretching you should do is different.\n\nAccording to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, static stretching (especially for 60 or more seconds) makes your muscles weaker and slower. Dynamic stretches are better for your pre-performance routine, because they are gentler on muscles and incorporate movement, which increases blood flow.\n\nStatic, PNF, and ballistic stretching are natural fits for after exercise (or at least a good warm-up). Exercise increases body temperature, which makes muscles less stiff, so longer or more aggressive stretching movements are better for post-workout.\n\nDynamic stretches are good for before a workout because they are more gentle and can mimic or prepare you for the exercises you’ll do in the workout.."}}]}</script> <h2>Is it better to stretch before or after exercise?</h2> <p>Stretching before <i>and</i> after exercise can be beneficial. Doing either may reduce your risk of injury during physical activity <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/44/14/1002.short" rel="nofollow noreferrer">9</a></sup>. But the type of stretching you should do is different.</p> <p>According to the <a target="_blank" href="https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/34/5/324" rel="noreferrer"><i>British Journal of Sports Medicine</i></a>, <i>static stretching</i> (especially for 60 or more seconds) makes your muscles weaker and slower. Dynamic stretches are better for your pre-performance routine, because they are gentler on muscles and incorporate movement, which increases blood flow.</p> <p>Static, PNF, and ballistic stretching are natural fits for after exercise (or at least a good warm-up). Exercise increases body temperature, which makes muscles less stiff, so longer or more aggressive stretching movements are better for post-workout <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12133860" rel="nofollow noreferrer">10</a></sup>.</p> <p>Dynamic stretches are good for before a workout because they are more gentle and can mimic or prepare you for the exercises you’ll do in the workout.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section5"> <script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"Is it better to stretch in the morning or at night?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":"Again, both are good. But your body temperature is lower in the morning and increases as the day goes on 11. Working on flexibility in the morning is better than not doing it at all, but it might be easier at night."}}]}</script> <h2>Is it better to stretch in the morning or at night?</h2> <p>Again, both are good. But your body temperature is lower in the morning and increases as the day goes on <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK331/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">11</a></sup>. Working on flexibility in the morning is better than not doing it at all, but it might be easier at night.</p> <h3>Is it good to stretch as soon as you wake up?</h3> <p>No matter what time of day, daily stretching increases blood flow and keeps your circulatory system healthy <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29623692" rel="nofollow noreferrer">12</a></sup>. There’s nothing wrong with stretching first thing if you’re stiff from <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/how-going-keto-can-improve-your-sleep-quality" rel="noreferrer">sleeping</a> or want to start the day off feeling relaxed.</p> <p>Just be gentle and consider doing a small amount of physical activity to increase blood flow before stretching.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section6"> <h2>Wrap-up—When is the best time to stretch during an exercise routine?</h2> If you had to pick one, the best time to stretch is probably at night or after exercise. This is when the body temperature is elevated, which makes it easier to move joints through their full ROM.</p> <p>That said, stretching <i>any time</i> of day is incredibly beneficial for you. Your joints will be more flexible and the health of your circulatory system will improve. Plus, stretching has a natural relaxation effect, which makes it a great habit to <a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r26uMBzCM18" rel="noreferrer">start the day</a>.</p> <p>Over the course of a week, aim for 2 to 3 days of flexibility training per week, and stretch all the major joints in your body for a total of 60 seconds. You’ll reap the benefits, day or night.</p> </section> </article>

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