Move It, Don’t Stretch It

by | Nov 3, 2008

A recent New York Times article questions the conventional wisdom of the value of stretching before a workout. Instead, the best way to prepare for physical exertion is a brief, easy cardio workout followed by a series of sport-specific movements designed to loosen joints and increase blood flow to the muscles you will be using.

Multiple research studies over the last several decades have shown that stretching does not help prevent injury during a workout. Even more surprising is that stretching appears to actually weaken the muscle for a period of up to 30 minutes following the stretch, thereby hurting overall performance.

But this does not mean you should skip your workout warm up. Scientists now recommend that you begin your workout with a light, 5-10 minute aerobic exercise, such as a jog. This movement will increase blood flow to your muscles and make them more pliable and ready for additional exertion.

To improve performance in a specific sport, dynamic stretching is recommended. Dyamic stretching is a way to stretch muscles while moving, a practice that actually does appear to increase muscle power, flexibility and range of motion. Data is also emerging that it reduces risk of injury.

The goal of dynamic stretching is to perform “range-of-motion exercises that activate all of the joints and connective tissue that will be needed for the task ahead,” says Team Running USA coach, Terrence Mahon. For example, runners should do movements that activate hip and knee joints (such as squats and lunges), while golfers should perform shoulder and back movements.

That’s right, even golfers can improve performance with dynamic stretching.

A few of the best dynamic stretches are described in the article.

In sum, the new recommendation for beginning a workout is an easy, 5-10 minute aerobic exercise followed by a five minute recovery, and then a series of dynamic stretches appropriate for your sport. It is important that you complete this warm up immediately before you begin your training. Waiting too long (30 minutes) before beginning your workout can be detrimental, increasing muscle stiffness.

Although I read and believe the accuracy of this story, I think it will be hard for me to stop touching my toes and hanging my heels off a stair before going on a run. It is such a regular part of my routine and feels so natural. But according to this article that may actually be hurting my run.

What do you guys think?

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10 Responses to “Move It, Don’t Stretch It”

  1. Anonymous says:

    But if you are gonna stretch, just make sure you don’t do it at a Soccor Match in front of another angry man……

  2. Darya Pino says:

    anon:Wow! That is quite a video!

  3. Michelle says:

    I guess I consider stretching an essential, separate from how it affects running or a sport. Our muscles get overused in a certain pattern over and over, and stretching helps counteract and keep our body balanced and healthy.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Status quo- every few years scientists come out with new data that completely contradicts all of our old knowledge. How long before we go back to stretching again I wonder. Don’t you remember elementary school PE standing on the playground, being forced to stretch every muscle…..and the whole Presidential physical fitness thing where you sat with your legs out in front and were actually awarded for being able to stretch more? All for waste…..

  5. Darya Pino says:

    michelle:I agree. But I think this article was advocating a form of stretching, just not so much the static stretch. There is no denying the benefits of flexibility :)—–anon:I disagree with your grim assessment of scientific recommendations. While it is true that new data may change the way things are viewed or approached, usually science simply adds new knowlege rather than contradicting old knowledge. This article is not saying that stretching is bad, per se, so much as that we should approach it in a new way.

  6. Zeus says:

    So is it okay to stretch my legs after a run then?

  7. Andrea says:

    It’s true that stretching does weaken the muscle, as stretching is essentially tearing of muscle fibers. And I think it’s true that dynamic stretching is probably a better way to achieve results for functional movement. However, if you really want to become significantly more flexible, some static stretching is required. My legs were never the same after practicing center splits, three minutes a week for 12 weeks (in addition to other stretches of course). That might be a bit extreme for most people, but in general, people don’t stretch enough. As long as you breathe through it and it feels mostly good, go for it!

  8. Jed Wolpaw says:

    I don’t buy it, it’s the evil liberals trying to get us to give up stretching and thus pull all of our tendons and muscle-type apparati. GO PALIN!

  9. soug says:

    So if Kobe had done dynamic stretching before the game, he would have scored MORE than 81?

  10. Darya Pino says:

    zeus:I think that stretching after you run is fine and probably beneficial.—–andrea:I love that you think “3 minutes [of stretching] a week for 12 weeks” is extreme. Hopefully anyone who wants to improve their flexibility can find the time for that :)—–soug:Kobe can score 100 points, he just chooses not to.

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