In a word: YES.
Many people skip, or rush through, stretching at the end of a workout. But you really shouldn't. And here's why.
1. It helps stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which (in English) means it will help to ease off the adrenaline and, as a result, pave the way to faster recovery.
2. It prevents the weakening and shortening of muscles and connective tissues and, instead, promotes length. If you skip stretching, you are more likely to develop short, tight and stiff muscles and connective tissues. This can lead to a lot of physical tension, and is also a leading factor for many injuries.
3. And lastly, it enhances the flow of circulation deep into muscle, connective and synovial tissues (the one’s responsible for keeping your joints running smooth so you don't end up like the tin man).
That said, the end of your workout isn't the only time you can do it. Stretching between exercises is a great idea, especially if you tend to be rushing at the end of your workout.
One great idea is to stretch opposing muscle(s) in-between exercises involving a specific muscle group. Example: between sets of push-ups, stretch back muscles. Or between sets of band rows, stretch pecs/shoulders.
And what about stretching before you exercise? Generally it's not necessary. A proper warm-up is much more important. The exception would be if you have a really sore or stiff muscle (for many this includes the hamstrings and lower back) - in that case, stretch out your problem areas after you warm up.
We lead busy lives and I know what it's like to want to get onto the next thing. But stretching is one of those things that you'll be far better off if you can embrace and learn to enjoy. Your body - and just maybe your mind, too - will thank you for it.
Poul Nielsen is the owner and operator of Nielsen Fitness, Toronto's leading team of in-home personal trainers. He has 16 years' experience in the fitness industry and has taught courses in Fitness and Lifestyle Management at George Brown College.
In addition to exercise (obviously), he loves spending time with his family, playing the guitar, strong coffee - and dark chocolate!