Is stretching before your workout a good idea? This question is being asked among athletes and doctors lately, thanks to interesting new research. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports both featured studies that revealed that, contrary to popular belief, stretching can actually weaken an athlete before a workout.
The style of stretching in question in both studies? Static, in which stretches are held for several seconds without moving, as in a forward fold. Both studies found that dynamic stretching, which is more similar to a traditional “warm up” and involves moving the body to loosen and warm up muscles, is the preferred method.
For example, in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study, participants felt 23 percent less stable after static stretching versus a dynamic warm-up.
UAB Orthopaedic Surgeon William Garth, MD, says that most experts believe that the warm-up, or dynamic stretching, contributes to beneficial flexibility, allowing the muscles to elongate properly before a workout, and agrees that holding stretches can be dangerous.
“Prolonged stretching of a cold muscle may place more stress on tendons and collagenous fibers throughout muscle and can cause micro- or macro-injury,” Garth says.
Kurt Thomas, head coach of UAB Track & Field, says that some stretching before a workout is acceptable, and that though research points away from traditional stretching, it’s important to warm your body up before you exercise, whether you are lifting weights or running.
“It doesn’t have to be intense, as long as you’re getting the body moving and the blood flowing.”
Thomas says that getting the muscles warm whether it is swinging your legs side to side, jumping jacks or any kind of movement. Even jogging for a mile or two then stopping to stretch, and continue running is a great way to stretch out cold muscles and get them warm.
“If your muscle is already cold and you start stretching hard, you could pull a muscle or injure some sort of muscle or tendon before you even get started, so I recommend light static stretching if you are feeling a little bit tight.”
Thomas says that jogging for a mile or two, then stopping to briefly stretch before continuing to run is more ideal, because the body is warm and better able to stretch.