SparkPeople Blogs  •  fitness  •  injury

4 Reasons to Stop Stretching Before You Exercise

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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GETULLY 1/15/2021
JUDY1676 9/13/2020
Thanks Report
SNUZYQ2 8/27/2020
Thanks so much for the skinny on stretching! I will remember to do my stretching after my workouts! Report
FITNIK2020 8/17/2020
This is basic group fitness guidelines and nicely explained. Classes are built on this model, and it is fine for most people. As wut anything else , people vary and preferences as well. In Jazz Danse, everyone was one the floor madly stretching before class, My husband does a few bouncy stretches befire every walk. Been doing that for 50 years. He never gets a Charlie Horse... but I often do, and I follow all the ACE guidelines. Report
Thank you! Report
RYCGIRL 6/18/2020
thx Report
BONNIE1552 5/19/2020
So many people get this wrong after years of wrong info. Report
USMAWIFE 5/15/2020
Thank you Report
USMAWIFE 5/15/2020
Thank you Report
ROBINRS 4/28/2020
I prefer stretching at the end of a warm up and I do gentle stretching throughout the day - like after working at my desk for a long time or on a long drive. Report
PATRICIA-CR 4/24/2020
Very necessary to know. Report
EVIE4NOW 4/6/2020
thanks Report
Thanks for the input. I didn't know the difference either! Report
Thanks Report
Interesting info. Up to this point in my life I always stretched prior to sports or working out at the gym. As I age I find my muscles less flexible di I'm a bit leery to not stretch before an activity. What is a good wY to prepare for yoga then? Report
thanks Report
Complete and utter b.s. To study or write about something is one thing, to live it is another. No one said stretching was a substitute for warming up. I played collegiate level sports with several athletes who pulled muscles because they cheated themselves by not stretching enough. It is a way to loosen muscles and increase blood flow, priming one's muscles. It helps prevent cramping and increases flexibility, as exercise involves muscle contractions. There is nothing wrong with stretching before, during, or after exercise. Stretch as little or as often as needed. To say stretching undermines anything is overthinking it all. Research? I lived it! Report
Wow this is going to save me time & injury who wouldn't do it this way. I'm starting today : ) Report
Absolutely great Report
Thanks for a very informative article. Good need-to-know information! Report
Love stretching after a strength workout. Report
I stretch at the end of each workout. Report
I always stretch after a workout, never before. I love to stretch Report
Thank you! Report
After decades of being advised to stretch BEFORE a workout, this makes much more sense! (However, due to lumbar arthritis and my 60th birthday coming up, I DO need to stretch as soon as I get out of bed; otherwise, I am too stiff to move!) Thank you! Report
Great article! I definitely will be changing when ,I stretch Report
Great article. Most people do not realize the dangers of stretching cold muscles. Report
In PT, they taught me to stretch before exercise. As soon as I read this on SP, I changed to stretching after. Report
THANKS! Great article and so pleased “you don't need to t urn into a human Gumby to stay injury-free. “ LOL Report
Solid information here. So many different opinions on sttetching especially among runners. We were taught to begin classes with a walk around the gym, about four minutes, followed by large active warmup of major muscle groups. Some participants thought this was the stretch. So cardio followed and then the warm down. Report
Never realized there was a diff between stretching and warmup Report
Made some good points Report
I"m just now learning this one. I'm seeing a PT and she has me doing a dynamic warm-up which is exactly what this article suggests. I wonder if my static stretching after my warmup (and before running) is what caused my knee issue to begin with! Report
I stretch after my workouts. I have read this one before. Thanks! Report
Great information. I'll start stretching after my workouts! Thank you! Report
good information Report
Yes, stretching with muscles that are still "cold" can lead to injury. Report
Good advise.. Report
Since joining Sparkpeople almost a year ago, I've followed the instructions during and after Sparkpeople exercise videos and learned to warmup before exercise and stretch after cool down. So far no injuries and minimal soreness after sessions. Thanks for the great information. Report
I learned something, warm up, workout, stretch Report
A few minutes of easy stretches before a workout gives me a chance to focus on body awareness. The body awareness and focus is the most important part of my safe workout! Report
This article might do more harm than good for people that don't read it fully. The first point I don't see because you usually will stretch, warm up, and then workout. No cold muscles. Another thing I disagree on the value of stretching before a workout. People that are mostly inactive or aging need stretching before a workout greatly. Report
I always stretch after my workout. No empirical reason. It just feels good. Report
Just finished a work out. Will give it a try. Report
Food for thought.
I never stretch before working out but I actually do like the way I feel when stretching after a workout - so everything you wrote here makes sense. Report
I never stretch after walking/jogging. I should start. I do stretch after doing cardio. I always thought it was weird to see people running then suddenly stop and start stretching. Report
I like some light duty exercise to get things moving before working out. Report