Muscle Stretching or Muscle Strengthening: Which Is Best?

October 28, 2019
There are many circumstances when you should strengthen a muscle rather than stretch it. You should decide on which is best according to what will benefit you the most at a certain point. Read on to learn more about muscle stretching and strengthening!

Muscle stretching and muscle strengthening exercises are both widely used in the rehabilitation of various ailments. However, how do you know when to stretch or strengthen your muscles? Which offers greater benefits? Should you stretch or is it better to start lifting weights?

We’ll explain these things in this article.

Muscle stretching

Stretching is a widely used technique that, theoretically, helps reduce muscle pain and increase joint flexibility. However, it’s been shown that just stretching doesn’t produce these effects in the short-term nor stretching regimes of up to seven consecutive months.

It’s believed that increased flexibility is really due to increased stretching tolerance, not the fact that the muscle lengthens. However, stretching either statically or dynamically is just good for some people. If you’re one of those people, you should consider the following:

When to do muscle stretching

When to avoid muscle stretching

A woman with back pain.

Stretching can be beneficial when you spend a lot of time in the same position. However, no evidence shows that they’re an effective treatment for reducing the incidence of injuries.

Before exercising

Static stretching before physical activity allows the muscles to loosen up. However, believe it or not, these kinds of stretches can reduce your performance and predispose you to injuries. Therefore, it’s best to do muscle stretching after exercising. 

If it’s the only thing you do to prevent injuries

Stretching as a sole method hasn’t proven to be effective in reducing the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries. However, combined with an individualized exercise program, muscle stretching can be beneficial in some cases.

If it’s the only thing you do to treat muscle contractures

As in the previous point, stretching as a sole activity hasn’t been proven to be an effective treatment in people with muscle spasms or mobility problems.

In people who suffer from neurological conditions, evidence suggests that muscle stretching doesn’t reduce pain or significantly improve quality of life in the short term. These results have also been seen in studies where stretching regimes were done for up to seven consecutive months.

Discover: Four Stretches that will Help Correct Your Posture

Muscle strengthening

Strengthening muscles isn’t synonymous with going to the gym. If you lift heavy weights but feel back pain when you bend over, you’re doing something wrong. Strengthening muscles is a process that should improve the health of your body. 

Remember that, although human bodies are designed to move, run, and carry things, we’re living in a sedentary society (we no longer hunt to eat, for example). Thus, since movement isn’t part of our daily lives, we must add it consciously, either through the gym, a home routine, small exercises throughout the day, or what best suits your schedule.

When to strengthen

That said, strengthen your muscles for the same reasons that you’d stretch:

  • If you feel tension or compression in any joint.
  • If you spend a lot of time in one position (standing or sitting in a chair, for example).

However, you should also strengthen them for other reasons:

  • If you’ve stretched to treat your symptoms and the symptoms don’t improve (or get better and then worsen).
  • If you’re tired after climbing the stairs.
  • Pregnancy or during the postpartum period.
  • If you’re recovering from an injury.
  • If you’re an older adult.

Regardless of the reason, consult a personal trainer or health professional with knowledge in the area, especially if you’re:

  • A beginner.
  • Underage.
  • Pregnant (or suspect that you may be pregnant).
  • An older adult.

When to avoid muscle strengthening

A woman lifting weights.

Strengthening exercises should be avoided after traumatic events or injuries. Also, it’s better to suspend them if you have symptoms of physical overtraining.

You shouldn’t exercise a fractured limb until the bone is healed after an acute traumatic event. After suffering a traffic accident, for example, make sure your doctor and physical therapist green-light you for exercising before doing so.

Also, you should avoid muscle strengthening if you have symptoms of overtraining. These include:

  • Poor athletic performance, at work, or on in your daily life.
  • Excessive tiredness.
  • Abrupt mood changes.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Insomnia or poor sleep.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Muscle pain that doesn’t improve.
  • Abrupt menstrual cycle changes.

You should also read: Muscle Pain When You Exercise Too Much

Muscle stretching or strengthening: Which is better?

There are many circumstances under which you should strengthen a muscle rather than stretch it. You should decide according to what will benefit you the most at a certain point.

If you’re worried about where to begin, studies like this one show that no matter what you choose, stretching or strengthening a muscle is always better than leading a sedentary lifestyle. So just start!

Finally, remember that rather than deciding what exercise to do, what gym to sign up in, or what exercise clothes to buy, it’s most important to:

  • Warm-up properly before strengthening or stretching.
  • Eat well.
  • Get enough rest.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene.
  • Drink enough water.