4 Reasons to Stop Stretching Before You Exercise

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
167 comments   :  217,281 Views

By now, you probably know how important it is to warm up before you work out. Warming up prepares your body for the increased demands of physical activity, reducing your risk of injury and complications. Beyond sending more oxygen and blood flow to your muscles, a proper warm up also prepares you mentally for what's to come—a workout that may take concentration, coordination and a little motivation.

The one thing you shouldn't do at this time is the very thing that most people do: stretch. So why is stretching before a workout a bad idea?

Here are four reasons why you shouldn't stretch before you exercise.
  1. Stretching is not the same thing as warming up. Confusing stretching with warming up is an all-too-common mistake, so don't feel bad if you thought the two were one in the same. You should spend a few minutes doing lighter intensity activity that mimics your upcoming workout—walking before running, slow cycling before biking, light aerobics before a fitness class. That is a warm-up. It gives your body time to adjust to the higher demands of exercise so that your breathing rate, circulation and heart rate can all increase in order to supply your working muscles with the blood, nutrients and oxygen they need to keep things running smoothly. Warming up also helps lubricate your joints. Stretching does not serve the same purposes and therefore does not pass for a warm-up.
     
  2. Stretching before a workout undermines your warm up. If you are going to stretch before a work out, you need to warm up first, and then stop moving in order to stretch. Have you ever thought about how the act of stopping to stretch cancels out the benefits of warming up? Your body temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate all drop considerably once you stop moving. After a few stretches, you're practically back to where you started: with cold muscles and a resting heart rate that is not ready to jump into a work out. This is one of the biggest reasons I do not advocate stretching after a warm up session. However, if you were to warm up, stretch, and then warm up again, that might be OK. But who has the time for all that?
     
  3. Stretching does not prevent injury. It wasn't long ago that fitness experts used to say that stretching would prevent injury. That's part of the reason people were encouraged to stretch before physical activity. But research has not been able to prove this theory. These days, it's generally accepted among fitness trainers, athletic trainers and physical therapists that the act of stretching does not prevent injury, no matter when you do it. According to a recent story by AP medical writer Maria Cheng, CDC experts who reviewed more than 100 stretching studies found that "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 if you have been stretching before your workouts in an effort to prevent a sprain or strain, your efforts might be in vain.
     
  4. Stretching before exercise may actually increase your risk of injury. That's not just because it undermines your warm up. "Traditional stretches, like when people bend over to touch their toes or stretch their legs on a fence," wrote Cheng, "often cause the muscles to tighten rather than relax—exactly the opposite of what is needed for physical activity." Your risk of overstretching at this time is greater, and this tightness can undermine your speed and range of motion when you start exercising. Some research has shown that certain athletes who stretch are more susceptible to injuries and performance problems. Experts theorize that a certain amount of "tightness" is needed for muscle strength and power in certain sports, such as throwing a fastball or kicking a soccer ball.
This is not a campaign against stretching. I firmly believe that most people benefit greatly from stretching and don't do it enough. But it should be done at the right time and not pushed to the limits. Most research shows us that those who are most likely to suffer injuries are people on the opposite ends of the bell curve; the least flexible people—and the most flexible—are more prone to injuries and problems. That's good news for your average exerciser because you don't need to t urn into a human Gumby to stay injury-free. A normal range of flexibility, often called a "functional range of motion" can help decrease muscle tightness and keep yourself active, mobile and capable even as you age, when flexibility naturally takes a decline.

So when is the best time to stretch? (And yes, you should stretch!) If you haven't guessed it yet, it's at the end of your workout, right after your cool down. Your muscles and joints are much warmer and lubricated after a workout than they are before one (even if you warm up), which means you'll get more out of your stretches at this time. And because your body is returning to a relaxed state, stretching after exercise is simply a feel-good way to end your workout.

Overall, we should all aim to stretch regularly. It may take a little effort to change your habit of stretching before exercise, but the benefits and reduced risks are probably well worth it.

Do you prefer to stretch before or after your workout? Do you agree with these recommendations? Will you change your stretching routine after reading this?


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Comments

  • 167
    At every karate class I ever taught or attended (five different styles) we always stretched the muscles groups after exercising them (ie one set of push ups followed by a stretch and then another set of pushups).Trust me NOBODY had time to cool off there was not enough of a pause. - 7/18/2016   8:43:54 PM
  • SWOOZIEBNM
    166
    I watched a father and son the other day at the park. They had a soccer ball with them. The father stretched and stretched for at least 1/2 hour, very intense. The son, maybe 9-10 years old did some stretching although not as intense as the father. I figured they were going to play a soccer game with other people. After I completed my walk, maybe 1/2 hour, they were heading back to their car. So no game, just kicking the ball around. - 7/18/2016   8:08:45 PM
  • 165
    I do not agree with this article and neither does my trainer. I have a shoulder injury and stretch before my warm up. If I didn't, I stand more risk of causing further injury to that shoulder than if I hadn't stretched. - 7/18/2016   1:10:06 PM
  • MIKELWOW
    164
    Not sure I completely agree with this article. I do Martial Arts and find that if I do not stretch at all I have more issues. Of course I combine my stretching with warm up activities so maybe that is the difference. - 7/18/2016   11:13:25 AM
  • 163
    This article was spot on what I have been taught - light exercise to warm up and stretching muscles after the work out. - 7/18/2016   10:42:30 AM
  • 162
    I "warm up" for cardio by doing strength training first, and do enough stretching to pop my spine after. - 7/18/2016   10:05:43 AM
  • 161
    I do know I can stretch much farther and get more out of it after a cool down...after a full workout. The warmer I am when I begin to stretch the better. - 4/22/2016   1:41:28 PM
  • 160
    This is great information SP! Thank you. I used to stretch before and after a workout in the nineties and early 20's. Now I always stretch after my workout only (new research) because if I don't I'll be sore the next day after I get up guaranteed! I also have a few muscles on my back and neck that occasionally go into spasms the next day after working out without stretching and I can't move until I have taken ibupropen or Aleve. - 3/2/2016   12:01:44 PM
  • 159
    I read in the book "Building Your Running Body" that the exception to this rule is that those who have been stretching before running all their lives should continue to do so, or risk injury. That has been my experience, so I continue to warm up and do light stretches prior to running. - 1/7/2016   2:36:02 PM
  • SYLJONES22
    158
    I didn't know there was a difference between stretching and warming up. - 11/15/2015   2:59:32 PM
  • 157
    Always done it at the end...just use to doing it that way :) - 8/26/2015   9:36:47 AM
  • 156
    interesting article. when i get back to exercising i will do my stretching at the end - 2/16/2015   8:49:14 AM
  • 155
    I understand the dangers of stretching cold muscles. However, taking the time to loosen up before a workout I find really useful; I go running or do yoga after work, and a few minutes' stretching shoulders, legs, etc helps me spot and ease tightness in e.g. lower back etc. From experience, that cuts down on injury as it means I don't start off running in a desk-bound slumped posture. - 2/16/2015   5:34:58 AM
  • 154
    Ditto. I start the day with at least 5-10 minutes of stretching in bed. After doing it, I feel much more ready to get out of it and do a real workout. I also have a sedentary job and try to take stretch breaks throughout the day. - 2/4/2015   4:14:20 PM
  • 153
    Interesting blog. I agree it's best to stretch at the end of a workout, but I also try to stretch generally throughout the day, as I have to sit a lot throughout the day and get stiff. - 10/16/2014   10:09:33 PM
  • 152
    I am certainly no expert, so I can't say that the recommendations given in this article are wrong or right. What I can say is that for me, working out doesn't go well if I don't stretch before (even if I do warm up).

    For me, stretching before the warm up loosens me up. It makes it easier for me to bend and move, and I feel better as I begin the warm-ups after I stretch. I also probably overdo it according to this article. I stretch before, during and after my workouts. However, I find that I rarely get sore (even after very intense workouts), I'm able to complete my workouts with more energy and my joints don't suffer in cold weather as much anymore. Yes, my heart rate goes down but I look at it like this: On the treadmill I gradually increase my incline and speed until I'm at that max I can take (5.0 incline and 3.4 mph). When I go straight through from start to finish without stopping to stretch, I don't burn as many calories. Why? Because I start to feel stiffer and stiffer the longer I go. Then I'm super sore and dead tired at the end so that I can't do anything else. I can barely drag myself upstairs to take a shower and I'm too stiff to stretch. When I take short breaks to hydrate and stretch, I can go for longer, I burn more calories and I'm energized at the end. Then I can go on to do my strength training, yoga and end stretching. I'm also energized (and not sore) for the rest of the day.

    That's a big difference for me, and I obviously know which one feels better. At the end of the day, the condition of my body and the calories burned are the most important things. When I stretch as I normally do (beginning, middle, end) I burn more calories and have more energy to complete the entire workout as well as energy for the rest of the day. When I don't stretch until after...I can barely stretch at all. I think stretching is something that varies for each person. Some people may be better served stretching only at the end while others may be better off stretching before and / or during. We must all do what feels best for our bodies. So I'll continue with my normal routine unless something starts to feel "off." I'll let my body tell me what's best. - 11/11/2013   9:10:05 PM
  • MARIUM2K
    151
    Thanks for this article! - 10/1/2013   9:15:29 AM
  • 150
    I totally agree! - 9/16/2013   4:21:09 AM
  • 149
    Good article, I now know proper warming up is to mimic the activity I am about to do before exercise to get my body ready for an intense workout. I do still stretch in order to help out with my flexibility and general well being, however, I do it separately from my exercise sessions. I use it as part of my Yoga sessions~ - 6/22/2013   6:11:09 PM
  • 148
    It's interesting that when I first registered on SP, stretching between the warm up and the workout was recommended.
    I never liked "interruptions" but did stretch to prevent injuries.
    My fiance always insists that I do it, too.
    I'm happy I can skip the "interruption" after the warm up tonight thanks to this blog post:) - 4/18/2013   4:42:58 AM
  • VIJJIRAJ3
    147
    I do treadmill before i will walk on it for 4 minutes and will run for 10 to 15 minutes and will do weights and elliptical,cycling,stepping.Will go home is this correct,even no difference in my weight will do this daily more than an hour - 4/18/2013   2:08:01 AM
  • 146
    Learned a lot in the comments about static & dynamic stretches. I agree with those of you who are of the opinion that one's stretchin routine depends on the sport/activity in which one participating. Personally, I abhor stretching before working out (I'm a runner). I usually just start off with a light jog & that gets me going. When I strength train it's the same story, light cardio then I move into my strength routine for that day. Ironically, I love to stretch and I love yoga. I just rarely experience any particular benefit in sequentially combining stretch with my workouts. - 4/4/2013   5:34:10 PM
  • 145
    As a former gymnast and dancer, I really am a huge fan of stretching. I'm 43 years old now and value my flexibility greatly. I can still do the splits on both sides and I can still put both legs behind my head.

    I'm one of those people that will allow a lot of time for stretching. There are times when I go to the gym and if I haven't worked out in awhile and my muscles are all cold and stiff, I will start by stretching. But I really pay attention to my body. I will spend about a half hour stretching and I will warm my body up through stretching. I feel like I get the blood back into my muscles by gently stretching and waking them back up again. My stretching is like a very slow dance.

    But even if I start my workout with a slow warm up stretch, I always end my workout with a stretch that is intended to work on my flexibility. After I am all warm from my work out, I want to really take my stretching to the limit.

    My new thing is stretching in the steam sauna. Some times I do this before my work out, some times I do it after. For me it is absolutely amazing.

    It really helps on the days that I feel resistant to exercising. I'll stretch in the steam sauna first, usually for about a half hour. I bring a 32 oz bottle of ice cold water in there with me too so I don't get dehydrated. Then after that, I am really warm and ready to work out.

    Or I will stretch in the steam sauna after my work out and I will do some really deep stretches slowly for about 30 minutes. The heat gets so deep in my muscles and I'm able to stretch deeper than if I were stretching outside the sauna.

    Being flexible really makes me feel really young. I still enjoy fun activities such as rollerblading, trapeze and aerial silks, and being flexible really helps with these activities.

    I want to still be able to do the splits at 90.

    - 8/13/2010   10:34:40 AM
  • TESS_O_LANDS
    144
    Totally disagree. - 8/13/2010   10:21:25 AM
  • 143
    helpful information! I usually do yoga and stretching in the morning for 45 minutes and 30-35 minutes walking in the evening. with my health condition I can not do more exercises. should I club both together? - 8/13/2010   10:08:30 AM
  • 142
    Yes i have seen, Nicole (I am big fan of her) doing stretches at the end of each 10 min workout routine. Frankly i just followed her just lke that but now after reading this article i know why she does so... it is amazing... muscles streches much more after workout than before....

    God Job Nicole... Thanks Ton - 5/10/2010   4:00:53 AM
  • 141
    Since I have been going to the gym I am doing better with stretching after my workouts I feel much better when I do the stretching - 5/7/2010   7:03:28 PM
  • JENNISGRAN
    140
    Unless I missed it, doesn't anyone walk for exercise? And what kind of warm up should I do before walking 3 or 4 miles? I always stretched my leg, ankle, thigh muscles. Now I am baffled. Help. - 5/2/2010   1:48:54 PM
  • 139
    I don't know if this is good information, but I was told that as a runner I should only stretch certain muscles, and then only after a warm-up. This is because there are supposedly studies showing that runners who stretch more end up with more injuries than non-stretchers.

    Interesting. - 4/30/2010   11:21:16 AM
  • 138
    Good point. I need to do better about stretching after. - 4/30/2010   9:55:20 AM
  • ACLASSYONE
    137
    Good to know. I've never been a stretcher(pre-workout), I just start my workout and take it easy at first. After a few minutes, I kick it up. When I am done I stretch if I remember. - 4/30/2010   9:25:59 AM
  • 136
    I never realized this. I guess I assumed stretching and warming up were the same thing. Thanks for the article!! - 4/30/2010   8:53:19 AM
  • 135
    The type of exercise is very important. You can't make a summary generalization about stretching in every athletic event.

    On the issue of martial arts, Genkidesu is absolutely correct. I was in Aikido for years, and we always stretched at the beginning of each session; not stretching actually had the greater potential for injury. (Yes, there is some debate about the potential injury caused by dynamic streching vs static stretching. But, personally speaking, I never saw the harm firsthand and the benefits were obvious.)

    Flash forward ten years later, and I'm now running. I don't stretch at all beforehand; I tried that a few months ago, gave myself a few injuries, and said "screw that." But the warmups are absolutely essential. All of my stretching, dynamic and static, now follows after I'm off the treadmill. - 4/29/2010   5:54:38 PM
  • 134
    As an average normal exerciser that this article is aimed at, I agree wtih stretching afterwards. My body is warmed up and I feel more limber in my movements. If I try to stretch first, I do not get the same range of motion or depth into my stretches as I do at the end of my workout!

    My fellow walkers/runners who stretch before our walks/run are stiff and look to be in pain while doing a pre-workout stretch. They are also the ones who start off gung-ho without allowing themselves a proper warm up time in the begining of our workouts.

    To each his own when it comes to this area. It is 2010 and times have changed. The things we understand now about our bodies is very different from 5, 10, 20 years ago!

    Relax people and be open to learning different and new ideas. - 4/29/2010   11:14:17 AM
  • 133
    Sorry, but as a martial artist, I'm not buying it.

    For one thing, this article makes no attempt to differentiate between static and dynamic stretching - a big faux pas in my book. There IS a difference.

    I've been involved in the martial arts for many years. We always warm up first with running, obstacle jumping, fast air-punches, vigorous jumping jacks, etc. before a session, but I and many others know first-hand the dangers of attempting explosive high kicks at the expected "normal" limits of one's range of leg motion without also doing sufficient dynamic stretching interspersed with the "warm-up" as well to ensure one CAN reach that "normal" limit on that day without risk of injury (groin muscle pulls are THE WORST, bar none.) Every single pulled muscle I've had came on days that Sensei for some reason skipped the dynamic stretching (even though we still did the cardio-intense warm-up).

    Static stretches on the other hand, are great for the cool-down period after a session, and do seem to help expand one's range of stretch for the future.

    To add: I don't think enough people realize the value of consciously relaxing the muscles as one carefully stretches after exercise. It makes a difference! - 4/29/2010   4:51:23 AM
  • 132
    I'm not convinced the science on this is as set as this blog implies.

    I also think it depends what sort of activity you're planning to do. "Normal" cardio or weight lifting, I tend to just do a warm up before, and then stretch after cooldown.

    However, if I don't do some light stretches before my warm up for dance or gymnastics, I notice a difference. They're much easier to do with some stretching before hand (better range of motion). I also always stretch after these activities as well. Maybe these are examples of a specialized situation that isn't covered by the research the blog is based on?
    - 4/28/2010   5:57:48 PM
  • MAKELE
    131
    I've heard about doing 'dynamic stretches' before a work out, ie stretches with movement to loosen up joints, eg arm crosses where you are swinging your arms and criss crossing them in front of you. Do these qualify as a warm up, or are they the same as regular stretches? - 4/27/2010   11:49:28 AM
  • 130
    I've always believed in stretching before exercise. - 4/27/2010   9:36:30 AM
  • 129
    Nope, don't have to change a thing. I warm up, exercise, cool down and stretch. Actually, another of my favorite times to stretch is right after I am out of the shower. I can stretch farther and longer than any other time. - 4/26/2010   10:15:47 PM
  • 128
    Flexibility training should be done separately from your other workouts, following a good warm up of 10-20 minutes :) To often people thinking "stretching" (no matter when you do it) is enough. It is not. I personally aim for at least 3 training sessions of 30-45 minutes strictly for flexibility training. I am not talking about extreme yoga but basic stretches :) hmmmm this sounds like a good blog entry idea...

    Happy flexibility y'all!

    Jenn - 4/26/2010   10:05:13 PM
  • KEAL48
    127
    What I like to do is do some sort of warm up activity like riding the bike for 5 min. Then I do some quick stretches. After I complete my exercise I stretch more muscles and hold the stretches for longer. By doing it this way I loosen up my muscles before I workout and get the benefit from stretching afterwards. - 4/26/2010   7:48:32 PM
  • SG4INFO
    126
    After a workout is usually when my body naturally wants to stretch anyways. I never really thought about it--so I guess I will keep doing it that way. I do yoga 2X week. what about stretching before that? - 4/26/2010   5:30:45 PM
  • VELATAY
    125
    may i say that it definatly depends on what sport u do...im a cheerleader and streaching is a big part of flexability...and without that id be a pretty bad cheerleader :P but, hears food for thought... what i do is 1. streach 2. warm up 3. a cupple of streaches for no more then a minuit according to what move im practacing.... im still pumping from the warm up but my body needs to have tighter muscles for the more 'strength' related moves (i.e. baseing lifts)

    sorry but i aint gonna change this since it works for me... but i do understand the 'tight muscles' problem...especially with running ect... :) - 4/26/2010   1:48:17 PM
  • 124
    I'm SO glad this was put out there. I'm an avid runner & everybody (including my running groups) stretches before they run. If I stretch before I run, I cramp up & my muscles hurt. I thought it was something wrong with me! I never stretch before a run, but I always warm up, run, cool down...and THEN stretch...and it feels so good after a long run! :) - 4/26/2010   1:02:34 PM
  • 123
    This is a difficult concept for me to grasp. I've spent 26 years in the military and it has been stressed through the years to stretch before and after the workout. Every military school I attended that had an organized physical fittness program had us stretch in formation before the exercise, be it a formation run or some other organized events. I will have difficulty with trying to change that mindset. - 4/26/2010   12:54:19 PM
  • 122
    I would have agreed with this article in my 20s. Now at age 39, I need to stretch before biking or doing the elliptical. Otherwise I risk serious pain that prevents me from working out. I warm up, stretch, and work out, cool down, and stretch again. - 4/26/2010   12:23:04 PM
  • TIME2WORKIT
    121
    I know that stretching AFTER your workout is so important and ofcourse warming up rather than jumping right in, but I have to tell you, if I do not stretch out my muscles a little before walking, they tighten up so fast! It is nothing big but a few stretches to loosen up a little before my walk sure helps me. Ofcourse, I do that BEFORE I warm up, so it does not stop that process. I guess we all have to listen to our bodies and do what works for us... Probably why opinions from experts seem to flip-flop ALL THE TIME! - 4/26/2010   10:41:07 AM
  • 120
    I got to say I don't really agree with this article at all. Has anyone ever played sports? I mean even in track and field we did 2 warmup laps, and then did multiple stretches. I was a wrestler and a football player, even in college we warmup and then stretch. In the beginning when run, what if your muscles are tight? or your sore? You never stretch standing up anyway. always stretch sitting down, especially when stretching your legs. Trust me you risk injury if you dont stretch first. I don't think this article is correct at all, giving people info. like that. Ask people who are or were athletes and they will tell you the samething I just did. - 4/26/2010   7:31:10 AM
  • 119
    My old as dirt PE teacher always had us do warm up exercises on the floor, then walk to the track and stretch before we began our workout. So glad to know I've been doing it wrong for 45 years! - 4/26/2010   2:37:23 AM
  • 118
    Hmmm...When I run around my neighborhood I stretch a good 10 minutes and then bolt out the door. I find that my legs ache right away but then 10 minutes into the run they get better. When I drive to a nearby lake and warm up by walking 5 minutes and THEN turn into a run I've always had a better run.

    I always thought it was because the trail was easier to run on than the road but maybe it's the difference of stretching vs. truely warming up? I think I will change my neighborhood routine and see what the difference is... - 4/25/2010   10:02:59 PM

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