The Great Debate: Stretching Before or After Exercise?

Physical activity and exercise are essential components of a healthy lifestyle. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just starting your fitness journey, the question of when to incorporate stretching into your routine has likely crossed your mind. Should you stretch before or after exercise? The debate over the optimal timing for stretching has been ongoing for years, and it continues to generate discussions within the fitness community.

The Role of Stretching

Stretching is the act of deliberately lengthening muscles to improve flexibility and range of motion. It has been traditionally perceived as a means to prevent injury, enhance performance, and alleviate post-exercise muscle soreness. However, there is an ongoing debate regarding the most suitable time to incorporate stretching into a workout routine.

Stretching Before Exercise

Static stretching, where a muscle is held in a lengthened position for a prolonged period, used to be a standard warm-up routine. The belief was that this type of stretching would increase blood flow to the muscles and improve muscle performance, reducing the risk of injury during subsequent exercise. However, recent research has cast doubt on the effectiveness of static stretching as a pre-exercise routine.

A study published in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” in 2019 examined the effects of static stretching before exercise on performance and injury risk. The researchers concluded that static stretching may actually decrease muscle strength and power when performed immediately before a workout. This suggests that pre-exercise static stretching might not be the best choice for enhancing performance.

Stretching After Exercise

Dynamic stretching, which involves moving the muscles through a full range of motion, has gained popularity as a suitable warm-up routine. This form of stretching can mimic the movements of the upcoming exercise, effectively preparing the body for the activity to come.

Stretching after exercise, however, has found greater support in recent years. During exercise, muscles contract and tighten, potentially leading to muscle imbalances and a reduced range of motion. Post-exercise stretching, or cool-down stretching, can help relax and elongate these muscles, aiding in recovery and reducing the likelihood of tightness or soreness.

A study published in the “Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports” in 2018 explored the effects of static stretching after exercise. The researchers found that post-exercise static stretching improved flexibility and had a positive impact on subsequent exercise sessions by maintaining a greater range of motion.

The Middle Ground: Incorporating Both

While the debate between stretching before or after exercise continues, there’s a middle ground that many fitness experts now advocate – incorporating both pre-exercise dynamic stretching and post-exercise static stretching.

Dynamic stretching can serve as an effective warm-up routine, promoting blood flow to the muscles and gradually increasing heart rate and body temperature. This can prepare the body for the upcoming workout while also reducing the risk of injury.

On the other hand, post-exercise static stretching can help cool down the muscles and prevent the build-up of lactic acid, reducing muscle soreness and promoting flexibility. Holding stretches after a workout when the muscles are already warm and pliable may lead to better long-term flexibility gains.


In the ongoing debate over stretching before or after exercise, current research suggests that static stretching immediately before exercise may not be as beneficial as once thought. Instead, incorporating dynamic stretching into your warm-up routine can better prepare your body for the activity ahead.

Post-exercise static stretching, on the other hand, has shown promising results in terms of enhancing flexibility and aiding in muscle recovery. Including both dynamic stretching before exercise and static stretching after exercise might strike a balance between injury prevention, performance enhancement, and muscle recovery.

It’s important to note that individual preferences and needs vary. Some individuals may find that static stretching before exercise works well for them, while others might prefer to focus on post-exercise stretching. Experimenting with different approaches and listening to your body’s response can help you determine what works best for you.

In the end, the decision of when to stretch – before or after exercise – should be based on current scientific evidence, individual preferences, and the specific goals of your fitness routine.


  1. Behm, D. G., & Chaouachi, A. (2011). A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(11), 2633-2651.
  2. Kay, A. D., & Blazevich, A. J. (2012). Effect of acute static stretch on maximal muscle performance: A systematic review. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 44(1), 154-164.
  3. Simic, L., Sarabon, N., & Markovic, G. (2013). Does pre?exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta?analytical review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 23(2), 131-148.
  4. Kruse, N. T., Barr, M. W., & Gilders, R. M. (2019). Acute effects of static stretching on peak torque and mean power output in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I women’s basketball athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 33(1), 165-172.
  5. Opplert, J., & Babault, N. (2018). Acute effects of dynamic stretching on muscle flexibility and performance: An analysis of the current literature. Sports Medicine, 48(2), 299-325.

Effects Of Stretching On Fascia

Helene Langevin is a professor at Harvard Medical School and at The University of Vermont College of Medicine. She is also the director for the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. Her lab has conducted a lot of interesting research on connective tissue. I’ve summarised some of the findings that relate to the effects of stretching on connective tissue (fascia).

Studies from her lab have shown that stretching had beneficial effects on chronic inflammation in rats. They noted increases in stride length, decreased pain and decreased macrophages (inflammatory cells). Both active and passive stretching were effective and had an effect on acute and chronic phases of inflammation. Stretching decreases pro-inflammatory mediators and increases pro-resolving mediators such as Resolvin, which is synthesised from omega-3 fatty acids.

A thicker thoracolumbar fascia has been identified in some people with low back pain. And the decreased mobility of the fascial layers is thought to stem from adhesions between the layers. Stretching can decrease connective tissue adhesions (fibrosis) by decreasing collagen formation.

Additionally, links have been found between chronic inflammation, fibrosis and cancer. In summary, stretching can have beneficial effects on inflammation, pain, function and even the predisposition to certain types of cancer!

Should We Stretch To Warm-Up?

Icone04Should passive (static) stretching form part of our pre-activity warm-up or not? Ever since I can remember I’ve had this discussion with colleagues, clients and training partners. People usually have a firm view on the subject and stick to it doggedly.

Over the last few years the evidence base has mounted; static stretching before exercise or sport decreases performance! It decreases strength, speed and power. In addition to that, its effect on injury prevention is still controversial. Does this mean that static stretching has no place in training, not at all, it can be performed at the end of the work-out as part of a cool-down or as a stand-alone session. Static stretching increases flexibility which can improve technique and performance and may decrease injury risk.

Dynamic stretching on the other hand, can be performed as part of the warm-up as it fulfills a lot of a warm-up’s requirements. The active movements help raise the heart rate, increase blood flow to the muscles, increase muscle temperature and pliability, improve coordination and stretch muscles and tendons.

In summary, perform dynamic stretches to warm-up and static stretches to cool-down. Simple!

Yoga and Stretching Ease Back Pain

Something I read with interest in the news this week. A large randomised controlled trial in the US has shown that both yoga and stretching can lead to better function and decreased symptoms from chronic low back pain. Although this was no surprise to me, it’s always good to have evidence to back up our practice…I believe they call it evidence based practice…

If you would like to read the entire article, please follow the link below:

Largest US Yoga Study to Date Finds Yoga Eases Back Pain