Should I Avoid Static Stretching Before Exercise?

Many people, including myself, have memories of performing static stretches before athletic events, gym classes, or exercise sessions. The thought behind this was a hopeful improvement in muscle performance and a reduced risk of injury. However, recent research has shown a different story. Below I will discuss the effects of static stretching and if you should bother stretching before activity,  avoid it altogether,  and any alternatives there might be.

Effects of Static Stretching

Static stretching is a form of flexibility training that elongates the muscles with a lower force and longer duration. On average, a static stretch will last about 30-60 seconds. The goal is a relaxation effect, increasing muscle range of motion and reducing tightness. Additional benefits of static stretching include; a decrease in motor neuron excitability and a decreased activity of the stretch reflex. Another benefit includes decreased sensitivity of joint receptors, which activate to help protect the joints and surrounding structures. Static stretching is a great tool to improve muscle and joint flexibility. Although, it is important to know when it should be used.

Why Avoid Static Stretching Before Exercise?

Before exercise or activity, we want our muscles to produce powerful, stable, and controlled movements. Research has shown that static stretching directly before activity can put individuals at a higher risk of injury. This is due to the relaxation and elongation of the muscles, and injury may result because of reduced power, control, and stability within the muscles and joints. It is important to reiterate that static stretching is beneficial and has its place. You will hear me say this over and over. Static stretching is particularly beneficial when used after exercise or any activity in which the muscles have been “warmed up.” However, based on recent research, to decrease injury risk static stretching should be avoided before activity due to the effects discussed above.

What Should I Do Instead?

Before exercise, the goal is to decrease the risk for injury and improve muscle performance. We want our muscles to be ready to perform. The best way to achieve this is with a dynamic warm-up. Depending on the activity, a dynamic warm-up before exercise will help prepare muscles for activity by increasing blood flow, oxygenation, and generating heat. Examples of a dynamic warm-up may include movements, such as high knees, squat jumps, shoulder circles, and inchworms. Warming up dynamically means that you are actively moving to get the muscles and body warmed up, not staying in one spot and performing stretches.

I will emphasize that static stretching is an important part of the equation in decreasing injury risk with activity, and is often extremely beneficial when done properly and at the correct time. So to answer the question, I think you should bother stretching, but it needs to be done correctly and at the right time in your activity. Based on recent research, entering into exercise or activity following a dynamic warm-up compared to a static stretching routine will decrease the risk for injury. For any specific or additional questions regarding what stretching routine is right for you, contact your Freedom PT Services physical therapist for more information.

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.