Whether or not to stretch before exercise has become a topic of debate. Like trying to define what art is, the answer keeps changing.Some see stretching as a warm-up or part of a warm-up to do prior to exercise. Others argue that stretching is best left until after a workout.
What is a warm-up?
A warm-up does exactly what the name implies: it warms up the body. International fitness expert Dean Hodgkin explains the aims of warming-up:1
- Activate the synovial fluid in your joints
- Raise your heart rate
- Raise your body temperature
Warm-ups take many forms, but all involve cardiovascular exercise. Consider walking slowing and gradually building up to a jog, instead of standing for ten minutes performing static stretches before you exercise. Or cycle at a low intensity. The recommended duration of a warm-up varies, from about 5 to 20 minutes, but breaking a sweat is a good measure to go by.
Before the cardio part of your warm-up routine, you may also want to consider using a foam roller to massage major muscle groups, which is best done before any exercising or stretching.
When to stretch
You may be better off waiting to stretch until after a workout. You may find stretching cold muscles uncomfortable, and feel ill-prepared for intense training after a few static stretches. Studies verify that stretching before exercise can increase injury risk and reduce stability in the joints. Some experts assert that flexibility stretching should be conducted after a workout, when the body is warmed up from exercise.
Think about stretching during your cool-down. A cool-down is recommended at the end of your workout to reduce the impact of your workout and bring your heart and breathing rates back to normal. For example, after a sprint workout on the track, you could jog for about ten minutes, followed by some stretching.
Should you stretch?
Despite what the experts say, not all athletes share the stretching-mentality. Ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes does not stretch; he cross-trains instead to prevent injury. On the other hand, there are athletes that see stretching as a necessary part of their routine.
Since research and expert opinions on stretching vary widely, perhaps the best advice is to listen to your body.
- Hodgkin D. Physiology and Fitness Course Guidebook. The Great Courses. 2012; 1-329.
- Haddad, Amy. “Should You Stretch Before Exercise?” Sports-Health, 11 May 2016, www.sports-health.com/blog/should-you-stretch-exercise.