Should I Stretch Before or After I Warm Up?

Exercising woman outdoors
Knape/Vetta/Getty Images

"I've heard you should stretch before you run. What is the best time to stretch — before or after warming-up?"

You should always warm up before you stretch. It's a bad idea to stretch cold muscles. If your muscles aren't loosened up before you stretch, you're more at risk for pulling them.

A warm-up is also important because it dilates your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen.

It also raises your muscles' temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. By slowly raising your heart rate, the warm-up also helps minimize stress on your heart when you start your run. A proper warm-up also helps reduce your risk of getting side stitches during your runs.

How to Do a Proper Warm-up

Do about 5 to 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise to loosen up your muscles and warm you up for your run. Try walking briskly, jogging slowly, or cycling on a stationary bike. Make sure you don't rush your warm-up.

You can also do some dynamic stretches or exercises to get your muscles warm and ready to go. Walking lunges, jumping jacks, front kick opposite toe touches, and opposite toe touches (bending at the waist) are some good ones to do.

Stretching Tips

Once you're warmed up, you can stretch any area that feels tight, but it's not really necessary to stretch before you start running.

If you feel tight or a muscle cramp coming on during the run, it's fine to stop and stretch. Try some of these stretches if your leg starts cramping.

The best time to stretch is at the end of your run. Here are some basic tips for your stretches:

  • Don't bounce while stretching. Hold still on each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Don't stretch through pain. Don't stretch beyond the point where you begin to feel tightness in the muscle. You shouldn't push through muscle resistance and never stretch to the point of pain. As you feel less tension, you can increase the stretch a bit more until you feel the same slight pull.
  • Make sure you stretch both sides. Don't just stretch your left calf because you feel tightness on that side. Ignoring one side could lead to tightness in that area, so be careful to stretch both sides equally.
  • Don't hold your breath. Stay relaxed and breathe in and out slowly. Make sure you don't hold your breath. Take deep belly breaths.
  • Post-run is also a great time to use a foam roller to roll out any tight areas, such as your quads, hamstrings, calves, and IT bands.