For A Better Workout Don’t Stretch Beforehand

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Stretching Before Exercise

One thing I can often remember doing in high school physical education classes is stretching before we did any vigorous exercise.  We had to “stretch those muscles out!” they said, or we might hurt ourselves. Now there are studies showing that just the opposite might be true. From MSNBC

Want a better workout? Then don’t stretch beforehand, some experts say.

Many people take it for granted that they should start their exercise routines with some stretching on the spot, perhaps hoping it will loosen them up for their workout. Most fitness experts now agree this kind of static stretching before exercise is not just counter-productive, but potentially harmful.

Traditional stretches, like when people bend over to touch their toes or stretch their legs on a fence, often cause the muscles to tighten rather than relax — exactly the opposite of what is needed for physical activity.

Experts say it is like extending a rubber band to its limit. When people stretch to the maximum, they are more likely to pull a muscle.

“We have developed this idea of static stretching at exactly the wrong time,” said Kieran O’Sullivan, an exercise expert at the University of Limerick in Ireland, who has studied various types of stretching and their impact on athletes.

When you stretch before exercising, your body may think it’s at risk of being overstretched. It compensates by contracting and becoming more tense. That means you aren’t able to move as fast or as freely, making you more likely to get hurt.

I know at times I have done exactly what they’re saying, stretching my legs out before I go running in the hopes that I’ll be a bit more loose. Guess I know why it didn’t completely always work as I had hoped now. Stretching can actually cause your muscles to tighten.

The article goes on to talk about how stretching hasn’t really been shown to decrease injury either.

experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention combed through more than 100 papers looking at stretching studies, they found people who stretched before exercise were no less likely to suffer injuries such as a pulled muscle, which the increased flexibility from stretching is supposed to prevent.

So what are you supposed to do if you’re not supposed to stretch before working out?

Instead of stretching, many experts recommend warming up with a light jog or sport-specific exercise, like kicking for football or a few serves for tennis. That type of light movement increases the heart rate and blood flow to the muscles, warming up the body temperature.

“This allows you to approach your full range of motion, but in a very controlled way,” said Dr. Anders Cohen, chief of neurosurgery and spine surgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center and former physician for the U.S. Tennis Open. Cohen said elite athletes in all sports are increasingly ditching static stretching and using other warm-up techniques instead.

But the message has yet to trickle down to legions of joggers and recreational athletes. “This is classic, old-school stretching that has been done for generations,” Cohen said. “It’s going to be very hard to convince people to start doing something different.”

So start out with a jog, or other moderate physical activity to get you warmed up.

What do you think of this updated news? Do you still stretch? Will this news change your strategy?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Tobyotter

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe May 25, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I don’t ever stretch before unless I am very sore. I just start slow and stretch good afterwards.


Craig Ford May 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm

When I was training for my last half marathon I read somewhere not to stretch. I thought it was crazy, but I don’t like to stretch so I gave it a try. I can’t tell a difference so I don’t stretch before I run anymore. Of course, I always stretch at the end.


Craig/FFB June 4, 2010 at 6:11 am

Exactly! You just need to warm up. Afterward you can stretch.


John's Weight Loss Blog July 11, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Seems like every study refutes the results of another study. Hard to know what to do.


p90x Dude July 29, 2010 at 3:35 pm

What do you think about Ballistic Stretching? I also stretch out my legs before playing basketball. I’ll try something different today before shooting. Maybe a couple of jumping jacks and light jogging.


p90x Dude July 30, 2010 at 12:17 am

I play basketball with a group of friends every Thursday. Today I didn’t do any static stretching but instead I did jumping jacks and jogged in place.

I noticed that I didn’t get any muscle cramps in my calves this time around. Last week I did. Hopefully, the stretching was the difference!


Zandra November 14, 2010 at 7:01 pm

I think that a better headline for this story would be, Don’t do STATIC stretches before a workout. As anyone educated in kinesiology would know- there is a huge difference in stretches and stretches. Static are performed AFTER a workout- always, self-myofascial stretches are performed before and after, active and dynamic stretches are performed before a workout. People gotta stop saying “stretches” like it’s one thing, that confuses everyone!


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