Stretching After Your Workout – Yes or No?
For many the end of a workout is the best part.
I fondly remember one private training client I worked with years ago who looked forward to the end of his workout. He’d collapse onto the stretching mat, feigning sheer exhaustion, claiming I’d pushed him past his limit. He’d then happily announce that he was doing his last set of ‘lie-downs’ for the day.
There are no two ways about it: stretching simply feels good. If it doesn’t, you may be pushing yourself past your limits. But is stretching after your workout really necessary?
If you asked me 20 years ago, I’d have blown it off completely. Not so much from a professional standpoint, but from a bit of naiveté. I used to be able to drive somewhere, go for a long run, get right back in the car, and stretch later – or maybe not at all – and not seem to notice any difference. Years later, when I sustained my first real injury, I really had to eat my words as I went through three months of no running with regular physio.
How important is it to stretch every single time you train?
The American College of Sports Medicine1 suggests “every workout must begin with a warm-up and end with a cool-down, as the cool down brings it back to its normal state. Time spent performing five to 10 minutes of low-intensity cardiovascular activity followed by stretching immediately after the workout will decrease muscle soreness and aid in recovery, both helping to prepare the body for the next workout.”
I agree completely. But, the reality is one’s schedule is often already so tight, the idea of tacking on an extra 10 – 15 minutes at the end of a workout can turn it into an all or nothing deal. If you find yourself not doing the workout because you feel you won’t have time to stretch, keep in mind that as long as you fit it in somewhere over the course of your regular Paleo diet and exercise regime, doing so after every single session may not be required.
Another reason to be flexible (pun intended) with your stretching routine, is you could be wasting your time and putting yourself at risk for injury, if you’re going through the motions of stretching after your workout and not doing it properly.
Don’t forget including other activities in your routine, such as certain types of yoga practice, foam rolling, and Pilates can all factor into a safe, healthy recovery protocol that keeps your movement patterns fluid and your body injury-free. Simply keeping the body moving and hydrated aids recovery by improving circulation.
Finally, what and when you’re eating plays a huge role in how much soreness or tightness you’ll experience. Even if you’re a top-caliber athlete, relying on carbohydrates as your main fuel will make you more likely to have soreness due to the accumulation of lactate,2 a by-product of carbohydrate metabolism.
By gradually shifting to rely on fat3 as fuel, you’ll completely nix all post-carb chow down sludge that feels like it’s stuck in every muscle fiber.
For anyone who’s not an athlete and thinks they’re not included in the population who should be stretching after your workout, think again – you may need it even more! Sitting all day long contributes to a host of physical issues, and even getting up each hour to stretch and walk around can help offset future damage.
Bottom line: make healthy eating and movement your priority and you’ll be able to find small windows of time when you can add stretching to your workout regime, before injury strikes and you’re forced to take a ‘time out.’
 The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff Volek, and Stephen Phinney April 1, 2012