Stretching or warm-up is the foundation of any workout plan that is, unfortunately, often forgotten. Simultaneously, it plays a critical role in building muscle, reducing muscle mass, and healing injuries. Read what stretching techniques we know and what benefits they hide.

Difference between stretching, warming up and cooling down.

The difference between stretching and warming up before a workout lies in their purpose. The goal of stretching is to increase joint flexibility and range. However, it is essential to increase your body temperature and blood flow to your muscles when warming up. These techniques are usually done before training, but you can stretch after training and cooling. However, all three forms of exercise are part of the same set – warm-ups.

Warming up, stretching, warming up and cooling down - are they really important?

Warming up

They were warming up before exercise is essential injury prevention. Proper warming up revitalizes the cardiovascular system by increasing body temperature and blood flow to the muscles. [2] Warming up also prepares your muscles for stress during exercise. If the muscles are warm enough during the warm-up, it will increase the range of motion and reduce the risk of injury during exercise. Examples of a good warm-up are aerobic exercise such as cycling, walking, or jogging, which you should do for at least 5-10 minutes.


After training, your heart rate increases, and your muscles tense. Therefore, the goal of cooling is to bring the heart rate back to normal and prevent the formation of a sore throat. An example of cooling down after exercise is, for example, brisk walking with gradual deceleration. Cooling is significant for endurance athletes like marathon runners because it helps them regulate blood flow in the body after a long period of physical activity.


Stretching, stretching the muscles can be done before or after training. Its main pre-workout goal is to improve joint range and reduce the risk of injury during exercise. You can try stretching your entire body or just focus on a specific muscle group you plan to train later. However, after exercise, stretching has an entirely different function, and its purpose is to prevent muscle soreness. Stretching can also be very relaxing, both physically and mentally.

The benefits of stretching and warming up muscles

Increases productivity

By far, the best benefit of stretching or warming up your muscles is how it affects your performance. It helps improve in three significant ways:

  • Improves Circulation – Warming up or stretching for 10 minutes, improves circulation, and opens blood capillaries, which have been associated with improved subsequent physical performance.
  • Improves oxygen function – oxygen is released more quickly into the muscles at higher temperatures. If you stretch before your workout, you will warm up your muscles to be ready for peak performance during your workout. If you skip stretching, oxygen can be released into your muscles during exercise for extended periods, which can negatively affect your performance.
  • Accelerates Muscle Contractions – Warming up the muscles before exercise raises the body temperature. This leads to better nerve transmission and muscle metabolism. As a result, your muscles will respond faster and more efficiently to all stimuli during and after exercise.
Difference between stretching, warming up and cooling down

Serves as injury prevention

With an effective and consistent pre-workout warm-up, you relax your joints, increase their range, and improve blood flow to your muscles. All of these aspects are extremely important in preventing injury. The harder and bloodless your muscles are, the higher your risk of injury during exercise.

The benefits of stretching and warming up muscles

Removes heat from the body

The activation of the body’s heat dissipation mechanisms promotes effective muscle cooling, preventing overheating and subsequent overtraining. This benefit is especially important during intense aerobic activity, such as running or cycling. [5] [6] [7]

Balances hormone production

During exercise, the body increases the production of various hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. They are directly responsible for regulating energy production and your physical performance. If you skip a pre-workout warm-up, these hormones may be activated late and do not affect. On the contrary, you can activate them already during the warm-up, which will give your body enough energy during the workout. [16] You can read about the effect of hormones on muscle mass growth and regeneration in our article. 

Cooling benefits

Supports Rapid Post Workout Recovery

After intense and challenging workouts, lactic acid builds up in the muscles. It is an organic substance that is formed when glucose is broken down in muscles. At rest, the body produces only a small amount, and then travels to the liver, converted back to glucose. However, more glucose is produced during increased physical activity, which also creates higher levels of lactic acid, which the liver cannot process. Therefore, it builds up in the muscles and causes cramps, muscle aches, or even muscle fever. Therefore, phase cooling after exercise helps remove lactic acid from the muscles, thereby helping to recover faster and preventing DOMS formation. Creatine, which also energizes muscles, has also been another excellent means of reducing lactic acid production during exercise.

Reduces Delayed Onset Muscle Pain (DOMS)

Delayed onset of muscle soreness, or DOMS, Eng. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) usually starts a day or two after training. Pain that you experience during or immediately after exercise is another type of muscle pain, also called acute muscle pain. This is due to lactic acid production and is accompanied by pain immediately after exercise.

DOMS can trigger any exercise that creates small microscopic cracks in the muscle fibers. The body responds to this damage by increasing inflammation, leading to a delayed onset of muscle soreness. DOMS or DOMS symptoms to look out for may include:

  • sensitive muscles to touch
  • decreased range of motion due to pain and stiffness when moving
  • swelling of the affected muscles
  • muscle fatigue
  • short-term loss of muscle strength

Research has shown that effective DOMS prevention is post-workout cooling by stretching and stretching or massaging stressed muscle areas.

Stretching promotes quick recovery after exercise

Stretching types

Just as there are different types of training, there are several forms of stretching. During the warm-up, you can focus on static, dynamic, and ballistic stretches. Let’s see what the difference is between them. 

Static stretching

This is the most common stretch. His technique is to stretch a muscle or muscle group to the farthest point and maintain that position. This type of stretching is considered the safest way to stretch your muscles. This gives the muscles and connective tissues plenty of time to relax.

Static stretching is usually done before strength training, stretching the muscles you intend to train. However, many practitioners find this stretching to be much less effective than dynamic stretching because dynamic warm-up significantly increases the range of motion.

Dynamic stretching

Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching is a popular way to warm up muscles before aerobic exercise. The dynamic warm-up consists of the muscles’ maximum warming up by repeating the movement several times in a row. Thus, dynamic stretching aims to improve flexibility before performing any sport, running, cycling, or other aerobic activity. An example of dynamic stretching is, for example, a sprinter who takes too long strides before running to establish a maximum range of motion for upcoming power.

Stretching types

Ballistic stretch

Many athletes confuse this stretching with dynamic stretching. However, there is a significant difference between them. A dynamic warm-up is based on regular, repetitive, and deliberately coordinated movements. However, ballistic stretching uses irregular, abrupt, mostly aerobic movements such as high-intensity jumping or sprinting. At the same time, when ballistic stretching, the maximum range of motion must be exceeded. However, it is important to note that this type of stretching is more prone to injury and should only be performed by experienced athletes.

Passive stretching

Depending on the type of acting force, stretching can be divided into passive and active. Passive stretching occurs when external force helps to reach the maximum point of the range. This can be caused by gravity, another person, or a tensioning device such as expanders or pendant reinforcement systems. The point is that the muscle you want to stretch is not under primary stress, so you can relax while stretching. Passive stretching is extremely useful in relieving muscle spasms that are treating injuries.

Active stretching

Active stretching is characterized by using one’s strength to maintain the position in the stretch. This is the opposite of passive stretching. For example, lifting your legs off the ground while lying down and use only leg strength to keep them in the air. For passive stretching, you can use arm support, for example, to keep your leg in the air. Thus, active stretching requires more effort but is more effective for muscle building and flexibility.

How to do proper and effective stretching

Myofascial release

A massage roller or other massage device is used for this type of stretching. Its application to muscles relieves myofascial tension and improves the flexibility of the fascia. The fascia is a specialized connective tissue system that connects the entire body. It affects bones, muscles, joints, nerves and is located in the brain and spinal cord. Therefore, it is essential to take care of the fascial system and to stimulate it regularly. Tension at one fascial point also affects more distant sites as it is a closely interconnected system. So if you feel the tension in your calf, consider that this tension is not only in the calf but also in other parts of the body. 

How to do proper and effective stretching

  • Duration of Stretch – Several studies indicate that stretching or cooling one part of a muscle should take 30 to 60 seconds. [fifteen] 
  • The number of repetitions depends on several factors, such as your physical condition, age, or gender. However, please do not overdo it with stretching and do as many reps as possible. It’s essential to listen to your body.
  • Breathing will help you relax. You should inhale slowly before stretching the muscle and exhale slowly as you stretch it. The exhalation should not be intensified but natural.
  • When to Stretch – To achieve optimal results and prevent injury, stretching, warming up, and cooling down muscles should be part of every training plan you do.

Types of stretching for parts of muscles

You already understand the theory of stretching and warming up muscles. It’s time to start training. What should this stretch look like? It all depends on which group you decide to train. However, it is optimal to focus on stretching the whole body. [10] [11] [12]

Full body stretch

The advantage of stretching the whole body is that no matter what kind of workout you’re going to do, every muscle will be adequately stretched. The basis is to start with the head and gradually move on to the feet while not forgetting a single muscle part.

I am stretching specific parts of the muscles.

An increasingly popular technique, especially among bodybuilders and strength enthusiasts, is to accept stretching only on specific muscle areas, especially for those you will strain after stretching. So, see how stretching the muscles of individual body parts should look like.

The stretch focuses on specific areas of the muscles – the shoulders, wrists, hips, and ankles:

Feet and Ankles – Many athletes, especially bodybuilders, forget to train this muscle part. These are muscles that are directly associated with the calf muscles or hamstrings. They are mainly used for running, cycling, and strength training during deadlifts. Therefore, if you don’t stretch your feet and ankles properly, you can get nasty injuries.

Stretching on the feet and ankles:

Calves – The calf muscles are also often underestimated during warm-up. Simultaneously, it is in the calf muscle that muscle cramps occur most often during exercise. A great warm-up exercise is to stretch your calves from a wall. Stand facing a wall, step forward with your right foot and leave your left facing outward so that you lean forward slightly. Press the heel of your outstretched leg to the ground until you feel the calf tightening. Of course, there are many more calf exercises out there, so you can always spice up your warm-up.

Calf stretch:

Hips – here, you need to focus on stretching the front and back muscles of the thigh. When stretching the anterior thigh muscles, standing leg extension is effective. Stand on both legs and bend one leg so that the heel touches the ischial muscles. Then grab the heel with your hands and hold it in this position for at least 30 seconds. During this exercise, you should feel the tension in your anterior thigh muscles.

Conversely, if you want to train your back thigh muscles or hamstrings, you need to focus on another exercise type. Sit straight on the ground. Keep your back straight and try to touch your toes. However, in no case, bend your knees during this exercise. Otherwise, it will be ineffective.

Thigh stretch:

Back – when warming up the back, it is necessary to start stretching the cervical spine. This is precisely what many do, be it cardio or strength training. The primary type of warm-up is tilting the head forward, backward, left, and right. After training the cervical spine, you will go down to the lumbar part, pull with bending forward, and with the whole body. You can also use yoga poses to train your neck, cervical spine, and lower back.


Shoulders, Triceps, and Biceps – The core of the shoulder stretch is to extend your arm, bend it at the elbow, and place it behind your head while holding it with your other hand. Sure, this is one of the most straightforward exercises, but if you have strenuous shoulder workouts in the gym, you should focus on a more comprehensive warm-up. The same goes for triceps and biceps, which should be given a separate time when stretching.

Shoulder stretch:

Biceps stretch:

Triceps stretch:

Schedule a workout plan step by step:

  1. warming up muscles due to short aerobic loads
  2. stretching the whole body or a specific muscle group
  3. self-training
  4. stretching the whole body after training
  5. cooling

However, keep in mind that there will be no results without the correct execution of individual exercises. Therefore, if you decide to include stretching and warm-up in your training plan, which you absolutely must do, carefully study the correct exercise technique.

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