Is stretching before exercise necessary?

Anthony Crespo
Anthony Crespo Executive Assistant at AHS

Stretching, It is revered as one of the most important parts of working but how important is stretching and is it truly necessary? Not too long ago static stretching before performing any strenuous exercise was an essential routine that had to be done before any major event. The reasoning behind static stretching was to avoid a debilitating muscle pull or tear. Recent studies are now coming out to caution people away from static stretching before working out. What some of these studies are suggesting is that static stretching actually impedes your body’s performance rather than increasing it. 

It is important to note that there are various different types of stretching methods. Each method yields its own benefit and like exercises has its place dependent on the situation. 

The different types of stretches are as follows:

Static stretching: Stretching a muscle to the point of mild discomfort and holding that position for at least 30 seconds or longer(1)

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF): Methods vary but PNF typically involves holding a stretch while contracting and relaxing the muscle.(1)

Dynamic Stretch: This stretch requires the individual to perform repetitive movements, for example arm swings, where one gradually increases the range of motion of the movement, but always remains within the normal range of motion.(1)

Ballistic stretches: Involves going into a stretch and performing bouncing or jerking movements to increase range of motion.(1)

What occurs in the muscle when stretching?

The exact mechanics of what occurs in the muscle are not fully understood(1). The act of regular stretching is believed to increase flexibility by making the muscles more supple and by retraining the nervous system to tolerate a further stretch. The flexibility gained from stretching gradually diminishes once you stop stretching – typically after 4 weeks(1).

Should I stretch before exercising?

Yes and no, the beginning of any workout routine should have a “warm up” period. The purpose of warming up is not only to physically prepare but to also mentally prepare you. Typical warm ups last around 10 minutes and involve some form of light aerobic movement and dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching is preferred to do before any physical activity because it helps increase the range of motion. Performing these active movements “wake up” the muscles and joints by bringing blood to the working muscle. With all this said, this doesn’t mean static stretching should be disregarded entirely. Instead of beginning your physical activity with static stretching it is better to END your activity with static stretching during your “cool down”. By doing this you will reduce the length of your soreness and increase flexibility while the muscle is more malleable than before. 

 

Resources

  1. Do I need to stretch before exercising? (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/stretch-before-exercising/
  2. Wilkinson, S., Jill, Crouch, A., Arantes, G., Jake, Girard, I., . . . Marg. (2015, February 09). Stretch before Exercise? Not So Fast.: BU TODAY. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from http://www.bu.edu/articles/2015/stretch-before-exercise-not-so-fast/

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