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4 Reasons to Stop Stretching Before You Exercise

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/23/2012 12:00 AM   :  152 comments   :  88,960 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

  • 102
    Hi, Guys. I am a kids (and adults) karate instructor. For years, we did the usual you will see in most dojos. Warm up, static stretch, and work out. Maybe a cool down at the end. My husband, also my senior, did some research a few years ago and discovered that is not the best approach. It is better, especially for kids, to warm up and do dynamic stretches before a workout. If you are going to kick, do swing kicks. Do not take a pose and hold it! (static stretch) Static stretches are for warm to hot muscles at the end of a work out. Most of the dynamic stretches we use at the beginning of a workout also make a lovely warm up. So....yes to a stretch at the beginning of a workout, but not the type you may have been thinking of! - 4/24/2010   9:01:15 PM
  • 101
    I always warm up, then cool down after my exercise session, THEN stretch. Glad to know I'm doing it right! - 4/24/2010   8:13:42 PM
  • 100
    Cool. What a relief. I always felt guilty that I was "cutting out" the stretching part to get on with the workout. I used to tell myself that "circulatory" exercise (ie walking or arm swinging etc) before my workout was a proper warmup and congratulated myself for at least doing that - but felt guilty for skippin' the stretch. Yippee. No guilt there anymore. - 4/24/2010   8:00:27 PM
  • 99
    I will always warm up before I exercise and have cool down when I finish. I believe that you should not hurt as bad if do these. Thank you for sharing this interesting article. - 4/24/2010   7:14:53 PM
  • JUHOEG
    98
    I warm up first and stretch after - 4/24/2010   6:59:05 PM
  • 97
    I can testify to this one. I stretched my legs before a softball game a couple of years ago and didn't warm up properly. I tore both quadraceps in the third inning. - 4/24/2010   6:10:20 PM
  • 96
    It doesn't really matter to me which I do. When I walk, I don't stretch. My warm up is walking normally, then picking up the pace. My other exercises are usually videos/DVDs, so I do whatever the instructor is doing. I have no problems either way.

    This made me take note that I have a circuit training video from the 90's that does a warm-up then stretches; then I do a video on exercise.tv with Kendall Hogan and he does the same thing. And he's a modern day exercise instructor (I really like him, he's good).

    So, this is probably one of those situations where everyone is going to have a different opinion, and that's all well and good. Just do what works for you. - 4/24/2010   5:55:00 PM
  • CHUNK40
    95
    I tend to skip stretching after a cooldown. while lifting weights I try to stretch each muscle after working it out. If I wait to the end of the whole workout I sometimes just want to get out of the gym and will skip the stretch. - 4/24/2010   5:14:06 PM
  • 94
    When I was going to Curves we were told not to stretch before doing the circuit but remember to do if afterwards. I have been doing this for at least the last 10 years. - 4/24/2010   5:11:20 PM
  • 93
    Wowsers. I did think about this one. It makes total sense. And it IS uncomfortable when muscles are cold.

    Awesomeness, we learn something new every day. :D - 4/24/2010   4:03:17 PM
  • 92
    WHOOPS, "OH NO MR BILL" I added this in favorites..Thanks - 4/24/2010   3:59:20 PM
  • 91
    I've had this same argument with my friends for years. I've told them it is not good to stretch cold muscles, but they never believe me. I need to send them a link to this article. Thanks! - 4/24/2010   3:24:57 PM
  • 90
  • JLF0744
    89
    Makes sense. My exercise program, from the Arthritis Foundation, includes a warm-up and a cool-down... but the stretching is in the core program, not the warm-up. Never really thought about it before tho. - 4/24/2010   2:23:36 PM
  • BIKERMAMA09
    88
    Thank you...this was new to me and very helpful.
    :o) - 4/24/2010   12:48:35 PM
  • GAARAMA
    87
    Great article and interesting, I warm up then do stretches before and after per my physical therapist advise. It is working for me. - 4/24/2010   12:47:14 PM
  • 86
    i tend to stretch after, unless of course i'm doing a pilates or yoga infused workout which tend to incorporate stretching throughout and feels really great. - 4/24/2010   12:12:44 PM
  • RENA1965
    85
    I warm up, stretch and exercise then stretch again- cardio prepares legs to some extent and gets the heart rate up, but if I am doing a back or chest day it doesn't do jack for me.. I am exercising my legs another day, and am still going to be stiff as a board hitting the pull bar.. I do the exercise that crave the most energy output at the begining of my workout.. My rotators protest without stretches so I do a 2 set of 3 simple exercises for rotator warm up from a back injury site on the net- since then no aches or pains.. I agree with rajakitty totally about being tight- don't have to have a back injury to feel tight either.. I would rather keep being safe than feeling that ouch that makes me sorry.. - 4/24/2010   11:56:55 AM
  • 84
    The only thing I question about this is that I've been a dancer my whole life. If we didn't stretch out before performing kicks or leaps or splits, you felt it right away and you wouldn't be able to get as high in the kicks or the leaps because of how tight everything was. - 4/24/2010   11:35:15 AM
  • 83
    These things make sense when talking about the importance of not confusion stretching with warm-up or cool down. There are times when stretching without cardio can be done such as before getting out of bed in the morning or as part of a yoga routine. What is most important to learn how to not overstretch a muscle so as to avoid injury.
    Absolutes that involve words like "never" and "always" rarely turn out to be true. Nicole is not presenting absolutes here, just explaining reasons to adjust the way you think about your stretching routine. - 4/24/2010   11:19:43 AM
  • 82
    So basically what this post is saying is that some people do the wrong stretches at the wrong time before a work out and thus it's bad and everyone shouldn't do it?

    My physio therapist told me that I should always stretch before I start my work out, and the start of the work out is the warm up. Taking 5min to stretch before the warm up makes a huge difference in my work out. If I don't, I won't be able to work out at as high a level and I don't have as much endurance.

    Perhaps this post would have been better to describe when and how to stretch before a workout, because I remember reading articles on this site that suggests you stretch before and after working out and this post makes it seem very confusing. - 4/24/2010   11:09:10 AM
  • 81
    Like MELIRPP, I found when I was trying to learn to run that certain muscles bothered me more during my run if I didn't stretch them at the beginning than if I did. Maybe a full stretching set isn't necessary, but if I find that certain muscles bother me during certain types of workouts, I will continue to try stretching them before doing that activity. - 4/24/2010   11:01:54 AM
  • 80
    I feel pretty silly for venturing to comment on this, since I don't exactly fall into the ranks of an "ask the expert" on this topic. Will just say that in my earlier years, I played a lot of volleyball - coach always had us stretch first and it just didn't feel right. I've always felt more comfortable stretching after physical activity. Just seems to be common sense - glad to see Coach Nicole get this out there! - 4/24/2010   10:31:48 AM
  • 79
    This is one of the things that makes me nuts. I have been working out for YEARS. In addition, I've actually taken physical fitness classes. I have ALWAYS been told (by people with degrees in physical fitness) to do a short warm up (3-5 minutes), then to stretch, then to workout, then cool down, then stretch again.

    So why would they teach students to do stretching before a workout (but after a warm up) without the appropriate research to back it up? - 4/24/2010   10:19:20 AM
  • PRESHA911
    78
    I stretch after my workouts. It's a good way to return my heart rate to normal and relax myself after vigorous activity. - 4/24/2010   10:14:49 AM
  • 77
    I stretch after I exercise and warm up prior to exercising. - 4/24/2010   10:04:32 AM
  • 76
    Back in the day I used to stretch before and after, but I considered it a warn up too. These days I'm lucky to execise (much less stretch) so I will remember to stretch after to keep the ol' body limber! Good article! - 4/24/2010   9:54:56 AM
  • PAMELALANDIS
    75
    I generally stretch after exercise, but have done some stretching before strenuous workouts. I will have to rethink that! Thanks. - 4/24/2010   9:28:57 AM
  • 74
    Thanks for the info. I stretch after curves and try to walk a little before I start. Guess that is what I should be doing. I love the stretch after. - 4/24/2010   8:47:32 AM
  • MELIRPP
    73
    This is a tough one for me! I have IT Band issues, but love to run. I've found out that if I walk for 5-10 minutes, then take a break to stretch my IT Band, and then start running, then my IT Band doesn't bother me as much. However, if I just warm up and then run, my IT band does hurt! Now I don't know what I should to :\ - 4/24/2010   8:45:13 AM
  • 72
    This is one article on Spark that I don't really agree with. I have always been taught to stretch before any physical activity. I feel good when I stretch out before a workout!

    Do some small stretches, warm up, exercise, cool down, do some larger stretches.

    I have talked to my doctor, other health nuts and even one of the personal trainers at my gym. All assure me that some small stretching before a work out is ideal. I've never had a problem. Sure it's not necessary, but it definitely helps you start your workout better. - 4/24/2010   8:24:13 AM
  • 71
    I used to stretch before exercise. my new trainer told me it was no longer necessary. Just make sure i stretched after my workout. - 4/24/2010   8:22:20 AM
  • 70
    I guessed it! How smart am I! LOL
    Seriously, I had no idea. But it makes perfect sense.
    Thanks! - 4/24/2010   7:33:30 AM
  • 69
    I normally stretch after my workout, but have found when going for my weekend three mile walks that I sometimes need to stretch in the middle of a walk. I even taught a friend who is training for the Breast Cancer 3-day that when she gets a catch in her groin while walking she should stop and do some stretching. She was in the early stages of her training and constantly having a problem. Since we went through those stretches and some others after that, she hasn't had any more problems. - 4/24/2010   7:31:15 AM
  • 68
    98% of the time I follow this. Today, however was one of the 2% days. My hamstrings were really sore from a weight training class yesterday, so I stretched them before taking my step class today. However, it's a brisk 10 minute walk to my gym so I suppose I could say that I warmed up, stretched, and then warmed up again for the class. But yeah, the vast majority of the time I luxuriate in my post-workout stretches. They feel so nice! - 4/24/2010   7:16:56 AM
  • SUNNY2DAY2
    67
    Great information.....I always stretch after my cool down. - 4/24/2010   7:12:43 AM
  • SARAHSMINOTAUR
    66
    I see arguments for both sides. Some people are refining the definitions, I would favor that approach and still in essence agree with the author. Summing: save the SUSTAINED stretches for the end to help remove the toxic lactic acid/other residue built up during the workout and to prepare the muscles for recovery, strengthening, and rebuilding. I remember hurting myself during the halcyon days of my youth (grinning "lantern-jawed" Farrah Fawcett era) when this type of long stretching on cold muscles became prevalent . It actually turned me off to exercising then. - 4/24/2010   6:44:08 AM
  • 65
    Agree. Thanks for the reminder. - 4/24/2010   6:06:06 AM
  • 64
    DEFINITELY agree; warm up, then exercise, then cooldown, THEN stretching! - 4/24/2010   5:55:13 AM
  • 63
    This article has really helped me. - 4/24/2010   4:14:44 AM
  • 62
    I always stretch after I workout when my muscles are warmed up. - 4/24/2010   3:50:29 AM
  • 61
    This seems odd to me. It has been a long time since I've played on sports teams, but I'm pretty sure we had to do a small amount of stretching before and more after. I do more after, if I do any stretching before a work out. However, I usually warm up with light walking or something of the sort instead. - 4/24/2010   1:51:06 AM
  • 60
    I stretch after when my muscles are nice and warm. I see people at my gym doing some SERIOUS stretching before they have done a single thing and it always makes me cringe a little bit. - 4/24/2010   1:28:21 AM
  • 59
    I learned this lesson shortly after beginning my program with SP. And I'm so glad I did.

    One prime example of the benefits of stretching "after" a workout revealed itself after a big snow shoveling day. Following a 10 inch snow, which we rarely get in our area, I spent 1 1/2 hours shoveling our long driveway. I enjoyed the opportunity for such a good workout, and upon returning to the house, I spent a fair amount of time stretching every muscle group I thought I had used - then took a nice warm shower.

    Everybody told me I was going to be really sore the next day, but I didn't experience a single ache or pain as a result. This made a big believer out of me.

    Thanks, Nicole and SP, for your great articles. I can't imagine it would have turned out so well without the great advice I had gotten here! - 4/24/2010   12:32:54 AM
  • INSPIREDLINY
    58
    Wow, I'm surprised, after a lifetime of stretching before exercising. I guess I need to reevaluate this idea and adjust...change is good...especially if is good for you. - 4/24/2010   12:18:12 AM
  • 57
    I always stretch after a workout, never before, as I had heard this information from sparkpeople when I started here.

    It is just common sense when you hear about it. It's like trying to bend uncooked pasta, it will snap a lot easier than when you warm it up. Then it is much more pliable!

    c - 4/24/2010   12:15:32 AM
  • SUNSET09
    56
    Such an eye opener however, I prefer to stretch after my workout to avoid the soreness and it feels more like a reward.. - 4/23/2010   11:07:26 PM
  • 55
    The reaction I get from many people when I tell them I snapped my achilles tendon last year playing volleyball is that I should have stretched first. It just so happens that I did stretch, including my calves, but I have been kicking myself thinking I should have stretched more. After reading this article, it is good to know that this injury probably could NOT have been prevented by more stretching...not sure if there is anything I could have done...just my bad luck? - 4/23/2010   10:34:55 PM
  • 54
    Sometimes I walk the dog for about 15 minutes before I jog, but sometimes I don't. Sometimes I stretch and sometimes I don't. This article was interesting though, because I thought stretching was the same as warming up. The author is right about your muscles tightening up if you stretch before excercise - mine would do that, but I thought it was just my nerves! - 4/23/2010   10:02:07 PM
  • 53
    I like to stretch before and after a workout, but I guess I should re-evaluate this approach. - 4/23/2010   9:51:29 PM

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