Some personal trainers encourage athletes and casual exercisers to do static stretching exercises before working out – to warm up their muscles. Trainers have given this advice to athletes for years, but the importance of static stretching before exercise has recently been questioned by new research. Should you do static stretches before working out – or not?
What is Static Stretching?
Static stretches are moves that lengthen the muscle and hold it in the lengthened position for at least thirty seconds. An example of an active static stretch is assuming a lunge position and holding it without bouncing for thirty seconds or more. The theory behind static stretching is it reduces the risk of injury and soreness after working out. Unfortunately, static stretching before exercise has some drawbacks – which has made it less popular in recent years.
Does Static Stretching Before Exercise Decrease Performance?
According to a study published in the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research, static stretching before exercise decreases the muscles ability to generate power – which is not a good thing when an athlete is heading into competition. Other studies show it also temporarily decreases muscle strength.
As if that isn’t bad enough, static stretching doesn’t reduce the risk of injury either. According to an analysis of over 100 published studies on static stretching before exercise, static stretches increase flexibility but doesn’t prevent injuries. Some studies even show that doing static stretches prior to exercise increases injury risk.
Why is this? When you stretch out a muscle, particularly if you elongate it too much, the body senses an impending injury and responds by contracting the stretched muscle, which increases the tension. This can make it harder to work out and makes the muscle prone to injury.
Other Risks of Static Stretching Before Exercise
When done incorrectly, static stretches can cause muscle injury – and even nerve damage. Aggressive stretching also reduces the muscle’s ability to remove metabolic waste products that can interfere with performance and lead to muscle fatigue.
Is There an Alternative to Static Stretches Before Exercise?
The best time to do static stretches is after you’ve finished your workout – while your muscles are still warm – being careful to hold each stretch for thirty seconds. This will prevent the loss of muscle power and strength that could interfere with a top performance. Stretching feels good after a workout, so don’t eliminate it entirely.
What should you do to prepare before a workout? Do a slow jog or run in place to warm up and get psychologically prepared for the workout ahead. Save the static stretches for after the work is done.
Fitness Prescription. April 2007. page 18.
Runner’s World website. “Does Stretching Prevent Injuries?”