Mythbuster Fact or Fiction: Stretching before a workout to help prevent injury?

Stretching was, and for some people still is, thought of as an important ritual to perform before exercising to help avoid or decrease the risk for injury. So does stretching before a workout really prevent injury? Studies show that static stretching before exercise will impair muscle performance and can increase the risk of injury.

What do I do before exercise if I shouldn’t stretch?

Dynamic warm-up! Whether this includes high knees, walking/light jog, lunges, or squats (among many other options), a dynamic warm-up will both warm and loosen your muscles, preparing them for exercise and decreasing the risk of injury. A dynamic warmup is different than flexibility training. Flexibility training is achieved by static stretching, which is holding a single stretch at the end range. As previously mentioned, since a dynamic warmup focuses on warming up and loosening your muscles, the goal is not to stretch or stress the muscles into a new range of motion. Keep your dynamic warm-up pain-free, moderate-intensity, and simple to avoid injury.

When should I stretch?

Static stretching should be done ideally during non-exercise times or after an exercise session. Stretching while at work or home is a perfectly acceptable option- remembering your muscles are “cold” which means be gentle when stretching. Stretching after exercise allows you to push a bit more into your stretches due to the increased tissue temperature and blood flow into the muscles allowing you to deepen your stretches, however, always within a pain-free range.

Why should I stretch?

When you perform a static stretch, you move your muscle into a new range of motion in hopes of lengthening the shortened muscle over time. It is important to maintain and increase muscle length so muscles are not stretched beyond their limitation with sport, activity, or exercise. Muscle injury often occurs when a shortened muscle is pushed into a new range during an activity (example: a hurdler injured during a jump due to a short hamstring muscle). Also, maintaining flexibility can help improve balance and posture, decrease general pain, and improve overall mobility and function.

How long do I stretch?

In general, 30-45 seconds per stretch is recommended, performed multiple times throughout the day if possible. Stretches can be held longer if desired and if time is available. General rules with stretching include:

  • Make your stretching pain-free 
  • Move into stretches slowly
  •  Perform the stretches on a daily basis

Answer to this myth-buster: Fiction!

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Rachel graduated with honors from Concordia University Wisconsin in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Physiology and in 2017 with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy. At Concordia, Rachel had the opportunity to take advanced coursework in manual therapy and sport specific training.