Should I stretch, use a foam roller (or the Meteor), or get a massage? And should I do it before or after my workout?
You’ve probably asked yourself at least one of these questions before, or at the very least you know someone who has told you that you should “insert piece of overly-confident, unqualified advice here”. For example, there are a large group of people that believe you should stretch before every workout to avoid injury, but did you know that the numbers don’t agree with that statement? Static stretching done before exercise does not decrease your chance of injury, and some studies even suggest that it may increase the prevalence of injuries.(1) Let’s take a second and talk about the effects of stretching and SMFR (or self massage with hands or a tool like the Meteor) on performance when done either before or after your activity.
Stretching Before Exercise
Like we noted before, stretching before exercise does not decrease your chance of injury, but did you know that it also decreases your power output?(2) In a study on athletes it was seen that their lower body power output decreased after stretching. Besides not helping your performance, stretching before activity can feel awkward and uncomfortable. What this means for you, is that if you are about to compete or even just attempt a heavy lift, you should avoid stretching your active muscles just before.
There’s a twist though! Even though stretching your muscles before an exercise will decrease your power, stretching your antagonist (opposite) muscles will increase strength, endurance, and power according to some studies!(3)(4) In one study, jump height was measured in athletes and height was shown to increase after stretching the opposite muscles. If you are about to squat and you want to make sure your quadriceps are as effective and powerful as possible, then you will want to stretch your hamstrings because they are opposite your quadriceps and perform the opposite motion.
Stretching After Exercise
Stretching after exercise is becoming more popular and actually has a couple benefits. The main benefits are that it helps to keep your heart rate up and assist in blood flow and metabolism. Because your body is warm from your workout, your stretch will be deeper and longer resulting in greater relaxation. Some studies have even found that stretching after your workout can decrease the soreness you feel in your muscles in the following days.(5)
SMFR Before Exercise
Rolling out your muscles feels great, and the best part is that it makes you stronger too. SMFR (Self MyoFascial Release) can increase your strength as well as your proprioception (awareness in space) as shown in this study.(6) Specifically in sore and damaged muscle, SMFR is effective in increasing strength in activity. In the previous study, as well as this next one, it was shown that SMFR also increases your range of motion, so you can exercise more of your muscle easier!(7) One last observed benefit of SMFR before exercise was that sprinting speed increased following rolling out the muscles of the leg.(8) So, if you find yourself feeling especially sore before your workout or you simply want to beat your own personal record, rolling out or even massaging your own muscle is a great way to get a little extra push.
SMFR After Exercise
Besides the obvious benefits of rolling out and massaging your muscles post-workout like increased blood flow, relaxation, and reduced soreness; SMFR actually increases your tired muscles strength afterward.(8) You might not be worried about your strength once you’ve completed your workout, but don’t forget that you still need to walk around and those of you that exercise in the early hours of the day still have a full day of work ahead of you! Having that added strength in your tired muscles is a great way to ensure that you don’t wear yourself out.
Fun Fact: SMFR with vibration is more effective than SMFR without vibration when it comes to improving flexibility!(9) Recovery devices such as the Meteor (which also packs the punch of heating your targeted area) are extra effective at treating your sore muscles.