Should You Stretch Before Working Out?

Should You Stretch Before Working Out?
05.04.2024
  • Static stretching, particularly before high-intensity activities, may lead to reduced explosiveness and power, according to some research studies. 
  • Choosing whether to include static stretching before your workout will depend on your personal fitness goals and the type of activity you’re doing. 
  • Experts suggest incorporating other types of movement into your pre-workout routine, such as jogging in place, performing butt kicks, lunges, and body weight squats.

High school phys-ed may have instilled in you the importance of stretching before exercise. After all, it’s key to preparing your muscles for activity, reducing the risk of injury, and improving overall performance. 

Right?

A debate trending all over TikTok has prompted people to question if stretching before your workout is actually bad for you. In a video with 2.9 million views, a bodybuilder claims that pre-workout stretching can be dangerous. 

“Newer studies have shown that static stretching before a workout can limit your strength and explosiveness,” he said. “It can even result in injury.”

Before you take his word for it, here’s what experts say about stretching, including how to make it as effective as possible.

Is It Bad To Stretch Before Your Workout? 

Static stretching, which requires holding a position for a few moments, can lead to decreased explosiveness and power, Kristin Hopkins, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Stony Brook Medicine in New York, told Verywell.1

“Static and dynamic warm-ups or stretching are equally effective at increasing your range of motion prior to exercises,” Hopkins said. “But, the important piece is that dynamic stretching is not linked to that decrease in explosiveness or power.” 

Static Stretching

  • Involves holding a stretch in a stable position for an extended period, usually 15 to 30 seconds
  • Typically performed after a workout or during a cool-down
  • Examples: hamstring stretch, toe touches, butterfly stretch, calf stretch, child’s pose
ALSO READ  Alanine: The Amino Acid Ally in Health and Fitness

Dynamic Stretching

  • Involves moving body parts through a full range of motion in a controlled manner
  • Typically performed before a harder workout
  • Examples: high knees, butt kicks, active lunges, jumping rope

One study showed that static stretching of the lower limbs and hip muscles had a negative effect on explosive physical performances for up to 24 hours after stretching. However, the study did not find any significant effect of static stretching on the ability to do quality springs over and over.2

An older study examined how static stretching of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles at different intensities affected jump height performance in physically active male and female university students. The researchers found regardless of the intensity of the stretch, jump height decreased by an average of 3.5% after stretching.3

The gist of these findings holds true regardless of fitness level, sex, and age.4

Still, it’s important to understand that stretching itself isn’t bad or harmful, Hopkins said.

“It’s just that you may be losing some functionality that could be a component to what you’re trying to accomplish with your athletic activity.”

Hopkins added that there is currently insufficient research to conclusively say static stretching can lead to injury. In fact, a 2021 review found although static stretching before physical activity didn’t consistently reduce the risk of injury, it did reduce muscle and tendon injuries when performed before activities demanding agility and explosive movements, like sprinting, jumping, or pivoting.

Why Might Static Stretching Impede Performance?

One possible explanation for the reduction in power and explosiveness that follows static stretches is that it elongates muscle fibers in a manner that may cause fatigue, Hopkins said. 

ALSO READ  The Effects of Exercising with Makeup: What You Need to Know

When muscles are fatigued, they can’t contract efficiently, and the ability to generate force decreases.5

Another possible explanation is the fact that static stretching is meant to ease tension in the tissues, Manarte said. Performing static stretches before a workout might relax the muscles in a way that’s detrimental to producing rapid force right after.

Not Everyone Should Skip a Pre-Workout Static Stretch

Deciding if you should include static stretching before a workout depends on different things, Bryan Manarte, PT, DPT, a sports and orthopedic physical therapist at Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute, told Verywell in an email. Some factors include the type of stretching performed, personal fitness goals, physical activity level, and specific requirements of the activity. 

“Some people may benefit from pre-workout static stretching and may not experience negative effects while others may find it detrimental to their performance,” Manarte said. 

If you’re dealing with a specific injury, strain, muscle spasm, or limited range of motion (ROM), static stretching before an exercise might be beneficial, preparing you to effectively get through your workout.

“Every human is different and the effects of stretching can vary among individuals,” said Manarte.

When Is the Best Time To Stretch? 

Hopkins reiterated that the best time to perform static stretching depends on the activity you’re doing. If you’re participating in activities that demand explosiveness and power, like jumping, sprinting, or lifting weights, it might be wise to save your static stretches for after your workout. Consider dynamic stretching beforehand instead.

“Static stretching is not harmful, but it is not the most effective way of getting warm for exercise,” Hopkins said.

ALSO READ  Exercises for Better Sleep

She added that incorporating static stretches before your workout may be beneficial if your primary focus is improving flexibility and reducing muscle tension. If you’re nursing an injury, this may be the move for you.

Alternative Warmup Options

Consider doing light, dynamic activity that will raise your body temperature before you exercise, Heather Milton, MS, RCEP, CSCS, exercise physiologist supervisor at the Sports Performance Center Team at NYU Langone Health, told Verywell in an email. 

This can include jogging in place, butt kicks, leg swings, and skips before running, or more slow, controlled lunges that will help open the hips and activate the hip muscles.

“Try to raise body temperature before moving through extreme ranges of motion, then start mimicking the movements you will do during your exercise or activity, slowly progressing to the similar intensity that you will do in your workout,” Milton said.

Manarte recommends incorporating a well-rounded warm-up into your routine to gradually increase heart rate and blood flow to muscles. Other activities include walking, rowing, biking, and dynamic movements related to the upcoming activity. 

“Including a mix of dynamic stretching, light cardio, and sport-specific movements in your warm-up routine may help prepare your body for exercise while reducing the potential drawbacks of static stretching,” Manarte said.

What This Means For You

While research indicates that static stretching before exercise may reduce explosiveness and power, experts say it won’t hurt you. The decision to stretch before a workout should align with your individual fitness goals and the type of activity you will be doing. In general, you should aim to raise your heart rate and get your blood flowing with dynamic movement before exercise.

Latest

Most read