For some, stretching in addition to a workout seems like the cherry on top of a sundae—a nice touch, but not necessary. Or maybe you think that touching your toes for a few seconds after a treadmill session is plenty. Turns out when (and how) you stretch your muscles can make or break your fitness goals.
Stretching before a workout is crucial for preventing injury as well as improving performance. Especially if you exercise right after waking up or if you're pretty sedentary during the day, your muscles are going to be tight, says Noam Tamir, certified trainer and founder of TS Fitness.
One study showed that stretching 15 minutes before a workout can help you avoid injury. So what kind of moves are we talking about?
"It's best to do a dynamic warm-up before exercise," Tamir says. As opposed to static stretches, which are held for 30 seconds or more in the same position (think toe touches), this type of stretching involves active movements that mimic your actual workout.
More from Greatist: Full-Body Dynamic Warm-up
For example, runners often perform dynamic stretches like hip circles, walking lunges, and butt kicks to activate the muscle groups used in running. During dynamic stretching, you're constantly moving, so it provides a cardio warm-up as well, explains Julie Mulcahy, M.P.T., a sports medicine physical therapist.
Not only will you reduce your risk of injury, but research also shows that dynamic stretching can help improve athletic performance. One study found that college wrestlers who completed a dynamic warm-up for four weeks saw improvements in strength, endurance, agility, and anaerboic capacity. Other research suggests that dynamic stretching enhances muscle performance and power output compared to static stretching.
More from Greatist: What's the Ideal Warm-Up?
The Problem With Holding Tight
Because the thought of doing a mini-workout before your actual workout sounds exhausting, many of us instead resort to a few half-hearted toe tugs after exercise. Static stretches like these focus more on relaxing the muscle and promoting flexibility than dynamic stretching, Tamir says, and can be good to add to the end of your gym session.
However, recent research has questioned the benefits of static stretching before a workout, suggesting it may lead to decreased athletic performance.