As an acupuncturist and massage therapist, I see a lot of people who suffer from the ill effects of tight and tense bodies. Fast paced and high-pressure jobs lead to stress. Compounded with sitting for long periods hunched over a keyboard, with heads down and eyes focused on our ubiquitous screens, the result is tension and pain. Many people turn to a strenuous and fast paced workout as a way to diffuse this stress and combat the ill effects of being sedentary for 40, 50 or even more hours per week.
While better than no physical activity at all, an overly aggressive workout regimen without proper stretching, while increasing muscle mass and releasing endorphins to make us feel better, can lead to tighter muscles. Combine this with sitting in chairs or cars, and hunched over our screens, this will lead to even more tension and pain. Stretching before and especially after is important to keep flexibility and mobility in our bodies.
Quicker, deeper stretches before a workout warm up muscles and bringing blood to where it needs to go, preparing for the tearing down and building up of the muscle tissue. This type of stretching is not as effective after a workout, as it also causes the muscles to fire and hold; while good for strength, it is not conducive to flexibility. To achieve flexibility and allow the muscle to relax, its best to stretch just to resistance, holding just before the edge where one feels the muscle start to fire and contract. A hold with 4-6 deep breaths, about 30-40 seconds, will signal the body to fire and release a muscle. Add in foam rolling, and the use of massage balls to target specific knots (especially in tight places like upper back and shoulder).