What are your thoughts on stretching? Is it as important as some say, and if so, when should it be done – before, during or after a workout? Also, how can I tell when I’ve stretched enough? I don’t want to pull a muscle.
I’ve generally found that most people don’t pay enough attention to stretching, much to their detriment. Stretching improves circulation and flexibility and is one of the best preventatives to disease I know of.
As for when to stretch, I suggest during and after your workout. A number of people stretch before exercising, however I’ve seen a study that says stretching actually weakens the muscles a bit, so you’re going into a workout with compromised strength if you stretch beforehand. Also, if you think of your muscles like rubber bands you’ll want to warm them up before pulling on them. We all know what happens to a cold rubber band when you stretch it out.
You should never feel pain when stretching. Mild tension in your muscles is perfectly acceptable, but nothing more. Also, never bounce into your stretch. Breathe deeply and increase the stretch as you exhale, in a slow, controlled manner. Bouncing can lead to injury, which is something you’re trying to avoid by stretching in the first place.