Light stretching is done anytime you need to use a motion, but can feel that you are a bit tight for the movement. This type of stretching is not for improved flexibility. It is for functional ROM to perform a movement/activity right now.
Stretching for improved flexibility should be done after a period of at least moderate intensity activity. If you have just finished an actual workout, this is a great time to stretch for the purpose of improved flexibility. For stretching in this manner, I recommend at least 10 minutes of moderate intensity activity, so including the warm up you are looking at 15 to 20 minutes of pre-stretching activity.
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I teach stretching classes for dancers (non-professional mostly) and our rule is stretch often. So generally speaking any time is great for stretching. We do contract our muscles a lot during the day, don’t we? Why not stretch them often? The important thing is WHAT KIND of stretching you have in mind.
I always do a minor stretch first thing in the morning, to wake me up and I recommend it to my adult students as well. We always discuss what particular stretching exercises are appropriate for a waking body. You wouldn’t do a full out stretching in the morning. But starting your day with a bit stretching is great for those who work on their flexibility and need to maintain a certain flexibility level. When you’ve been sitting at a desk for a while, it’s good to get up and stretch a little. Again we are not talking about any major stretching, but giving your muscles attention is always a good thing.
In order to do a good deep stretch, you need to be properly warmed up, I think everyone knows that. Stick to that rule and stretch often!
Like most area’s of this exercise stuff there is a whole lot of contradictory and if this and if that type of messages that come with your question.
I think really the best general answer is stretching at anytime is good.
Looking specifically day versus night there is certainly a strong case that could be made for both, which are built around the same principle : posture.
First for more morning, lets take a look at “why” we should. Number one. is that we just finished. While that may be a state of “relaxation,” in terms of your brain shutting down for a bit that doesn’t necessarily mean that our muscular system isn’t working. Sure, we are moving, but people don’t necessarily sleep in ideal positions. I mean, think about what “stiff neck,” is. The tendency for people is to sleep in positions that will reinforce dysfunctional postures. How many people have you had over the years with shoulder impingement type complaints that still sleep on that side of the body? Or better yet, how many people will sleep without elevating their knees and allow their lumber to stay in lordosis for eight hours a night? So for me it doesn’t make sense to just allow some to (1) not know how to sleep correctly but also (2) go from a position of stiffness to a day full of likely stiffness. Stretch in the morning. This doesn’t mean while you are still in bed. Get up brush your teeth, read your paper, shower, then stretch. Its that easy.
So we get out of bed and then we are off doing what we do. Most people don’t move in multi-planes equally and consistently enough. In fact, we live in a world that is dominated by the sagittal plane and SITTING. Obviously, that will create some muscle length tension relationships that will be routinely addressed. So why not use techniques during the day and at night. I mean, if we are respsonsible with our automobiles enough to take it to have the alignment adjusted, why would just let out bodies get stuck in positions that they shouldn’t be?
The answer is daily maintenance. Brush your teeth, comb your (if you have any!!) and stretch your limitations!
hope this helps,
Gentle stretching within the involved joints’ ROM anytime is certainly indicated. To improve ROM, the research suggests that it’s best to stretch following a cardiovascular or strenth workout, since the temperature in the tissues surrounding the targeted connective tissues will be slightly elevated, thus increasing the probability for changes in the “plastic” elements of the connective tissues.