The age-old question (if you are a health geek anyway): Do I stretch before or after a workout? Or in the case of equestrians, before or after a ride?
The answer lies in the details. My first response to this question is to explain that the old-fashioned form of “stretching” has gone out of style. Research says that static stretching (holding a position) is only beneficial in certain conditions, whereas dynamic stretching and mobility work are the “in” thing right now.
When could static stretching be useful? Generally post-workout if you have ongoing tightness in a muscle group. The most common places for tightness are usually the calves, hip flexors, glutes, and pec (chest) muscles. I often caution stretching the glutes and hip flexors too much as they are usually tight due to disuse, not over-use, and stretching them statically won’t solve that problem, even though it will feel good. Stretching the calves and pecs statically is important for most of us to maintain strong lower and upper body postures.
What about dynamic stretching? Dynamic stretching movements like high knees, butt kicks, zombie walks, sweep walks, lunges, wall angels, and arm swings are best done pre-workout/ride as they will raise the heart rate and blood flow and mobilize muscle tissue to aid in a warm up.
Mobility work should be done as much as possible. I’ve outlined lots of examples in previous articles like kneeling lunge with rotations or thoracic rotations. Mobility work can be done before, during, and after a workout and can also include foam rolling.
Personally I love to stretch and mobilize several muscle groups at once. Positions like downward dog, kick stretch, and 90/90 upper body rotations are great for that.
Downward Dog: Downward dog will hit the back half of your body from your feet to your upper back, but it does take time to learn the proper position. The shoulders should remain active and eventually your heels should touch the ground. The upper back should end up fairly straight with the hips high and the legs straight (eventually) as well.
Kick Stretch: The kick stretch will also hit the entire back half of the leg. While lying on your back, grab the back of one thigh and pull the knee towards your chest. Then, while flexing the ankle, kick the heel towards the sky, feeling the stretch through the bottom of the foot into the calf and hamstring. Repeat 8-10 times per side, 3-5 times a day. This would be considered a dynamic stretch as it includes movement.
The 90/90 Rotation: This mobilizes the upper body and rib cage, and a little into the lower back and abdomen. While lying on your side with your knees and hips bent to 90 degrees respectively, and your arms straight out in front of you (crocodile style), raise the top arm up to 90 degree angle, perpendicular to the rib cage. Inhale first and then exhale to twist towards the opposite side, eventually touching the ground. Your eyes and head will follow the arm. Repeat 8-10 passes on each side 3-5 times a day. You’ll likely notice one side is a bit different than the other.
To summarize, do mobility work as often as you can, statically stretch after a workout or ride as part of a cool down, and dynamically stretch and foam roll as a warm up before a ride or workout.
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Kathlyn Hossack is a Certified Athletic Therapist and Kinesiologist from Winnipeg, Manitoba dedicated to helping riders improve their movement.