Is Stretching Before a Workout Bad for You?

Static stretching--flexing and holding a position, like bending over and touching your toes, has earned a bad rap lately. Sometimes it seems like the entire fitness universe, especially personal trainers, pooh-pooh this practice before a workout. They say it weakens your muscles and may increase your chance of injury.

This sentiment is understandable: It's based on a solid, and widely read, 2008 University of Nevada Las Vegas study that described how college athletes lost about three percent of their leg power if they static stretched before a super-short "explosive" sprint.

Boom. Fact. Right?

Hold on. You're not a college athlete whose three percent power loss may cost him an inch in a 40-yard dash. Our "performance" stakes are much lower—like a weights workout or a three-miler through the park (assuming it's sunny). Most of us will never notice we're a few points shy of peak performance.

We just want to be flexible and not get injured when we work out.

The good news is static stretching won't increase your chance of getting hurt, but it won't necessarily help prevent it, either. A recent USA Track & Field study of 1,400 runners showed no difference in injury rates between pre-run stretchers and those who started cold.

To prevent injury, most movement scientists agree that you need a few minutes of a warm-up (or "dynamic stretching"), where you move, break a sweat, and perform a few range-of-motion drills, such as arm swings, high knees, or jumping jacks.

Bottom line: If you like stretching before a workout, go ahead. There is no denying it keeps you flexible, increases your general body awareness, releases stress, and flat-out feels good. Just remember, you need a moving warm-up, too.

—Mike Dawson

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Photo Courtesy of: The Library of Congress
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