Have you been stretching? Didn’t you do any stretching at all? May we know in the end what it is for and whether it is really important to do it? Let’s start at the beginning and you will see that we will find a definitive answer.
What stretching is for
The name says it all: we’re talking about exercises to be done to “lengthen” muscle fibers. Simple isn’t it? If you still have memories of the hours spent in school practicing it during physical education class, you will also remember what it was used for: to “warm up” the muscle and prepare it for sport activities. It was in fact called a warm-up and was preceded or followed by the jog around the field.
Technically this is what it is all about: manipulating the fiber of your muscles in a way that stretches and shapes, while at the same time fortifying them.
What stretching causes (and you don’t normally know)
Like any manipulative activity on the muscle fiber, stretching, contrary to popular belief, is not painless for the muscle: the more you stretch the fiber, the more you put it under tension and injure it, albeit in a controlled way. But then what is the point of doing it? It is meant to make it more elastic, efficient and suitable for endurance work, not to make it express more explosive power.
Do it before or after?
Okay, you need it. So when do you have to do it? Before, after? The answer is that you should not do it either before or after but at least a couple of hours after training. If you do it before you are only fatiguing a muscle that will soon have to express power, if you do it afterwards you are only fatiguing it after it has already torn (we are talking about micro-lacerations, don’t be alarmed). Before running, you can perhaps warm up your legs with a brisk walk or a light jog; after running, however, you need to let them rest because they are recovering. Recovery is that all-important time when the muscle–relaxed–rebuilds itself and recovers. It’s easy to see that if you add to the stress of training the stress of stretching, you’re not doing them much of a favor.
As Sandro often suggests, we should change our perspective on stretching: no longer consider it an ancillary activity of training but a workout in its own right. A kind of yoga, to be practiced not because you have to but because it is useful and is a meditation break that you give yourself.