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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Comments

CECELW 9/26/2018
I always stretch after a workout, never before. I love to stretch Report
ALEPEQUIJADA 9/7/2018
Thanks! Report
KHALIA2 8/24/2018
Thank you! Report
CKOUDSI617 7/23/2018
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
TRACYGILB2015 7/17/2018
Great article! I definitely will be changing when ,I stretch Report
JOHNMARTINMILES 7/8/2018
Great article. Most people do not realize the dangers of stretching cold muscles. Report
KATHYJO56 4/17/2018
In PT, they taught me to stretch before exercise. As soon as I read this on SP, I changed to stretching after. Report
JUSTFURKIDS 3/2/2018
THANKS! Great article and so pleased “you don't need to t urn into a human Gumby to stay injury-free. “ LOL Report
GGRSPARK 2/22/2018
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
HAWKTHREE 2/11/2018
Never realized there was a diff between stretching and warmup Report
PLCHAPPELL 1/11/2018
Made some good points Report
DIROB57 1/2/2018
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
KHALIA2 11/25/2017
I stretch after my workouts. I have read this one before. Thanks! Report
GKNIGHT69 11/15/2017
Great information. I'll start stretching after my workouts! Thank you! Report
DRLMAZ 10/23/2017
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
EDMITI
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
SEGELS
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.
Report
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
Nicole is an expert I believe in. Thanks Nicole Report
Eh. I suppose it depends on what you're calling stretching - stopping and holding a stretch for 30 seconds for each muscle, versus a quickie 8-10 second stretch.

I typically have a few stretches in the middle of my warm-ups. They're not held for long and they're certainly not held long enough for me to completely cool down. Generally this helps as I'm typically sore from my previous day's workout and some of my muscles may feel like they're cramping up during my warm-up. The quickie stretch loosens them up and then I'm good to go.

And what about yoga? This exercise essentially is stretching and strength. Rarely have I ever encountered a class where everyone had to jog in place first before the class. You go right into poses. Report
SYLVIA37
I have always started my workout at a slower pace rather than stretching. If I stretch I get bored. I'm too impatient to waste time stretching. Report
I always warm up with light treadmill before working out, then stretch afterwards. It doesn't make much sense to me to stretch before working out. Report
interesting Report
Never had a stretching routine before exercising, lucky to have time to actually exercise, just start out slower and work your way up. Report
Bravo! Thank you for the "permission" to stop stretching before exercise. I followed the old way of thinking to stretch before( Yes, getting stretching confused with warming up) Only to find every time my motivation to exercise would be destroyed half way through stretching. I would grow bored and never make it or force myself to make it to exercise. Now exercise can be fun for me again! Report
For me, if I don't stretch before going for a walk (and I'm not talking about walking a 5K...I mean a nice mile or so on a regular day), my legs will burn and itch like there's no tomorrow. So, I do a little stretching before my walk and a little stretching after and I have never had any problems. Report
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. Report
SWOOZIEBNM
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. Report
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. Report
MIKELWOW
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. Report
This article was spot on what I have been taught - light exercise to warm up and stretching muscles after the work out. Report
I "warm up" for cardio by doing strength training first, and do enough stretching to pop my spine after. Report
SAFIRE82
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
SYLJONES22
I didn't know there was a difference between stretching and warming up. Report
Always done it at the end...just use to doing it that way :) Report
interesting article. when i get back to exercising i will do my stretching at the end Report
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. Report
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. Report