Pre-Workout Stretches? Maybe Not


Going all the way back to our youth sports league days, we’ve been taught to stretch before exercising. The problem with this advice is it may be doing more harm than good. The stretches we’ve always relied on to warm up our muscles and avoid a trip to a New York sports physical therapy center are mostly static stretches. What does that mean, and why is it bad for us? Read on the find out.

What is a ‘Static’ Stretch?

Static stretching involves stretching a large muscle, like the thigh or hamstrings, or group of muscles and holding that position for a period of time. An example might be toe touches. This type of warmup causes muscle weakness and makes your workout or performance less effective. Researches at the University of Zagreb looked at 104 different studies on static stretches and found that holding any pose for 90 seconds or more reduces muscle strength by an average of 5.5% and performance by 2.8%. In fact, subjects performed worse than if they hadn’t done any warmup at all.

The goal of a pre-workout warmup is to prepare the muscles for exertion and avoid muscle strain or injury. Stretching causes the joints to extend to their farthest range of motion, which does increase their flexibility. This is why yoga is so effective. But getting the muscles ready for a game or workout is best achieved through dynamic movement. Exercise physiologists maintain that stretching is better done after the workout, when the muscles are already warmed up.

How to Warm Up the Right Way

The best way to get your body ready for weight training or sports performance is a two-step process. The first step is to facilitate myofascial release by rolling a tennis ball or foam rollers over the major muscle groups. This will work knots out of muscles and reduce trigger points. Then, the athlete should run through a series of dynamic motions to loosen joints and increases blood flow to the muscles. The idea is to bring the body gently through a full range of motion.

The dynamic workout could start with running in place for 30 seconds, followed by exercises like leg swings, arms circles and lunges. Just make sure not to hold the lung, but to switch from legs to leg rather quickly. Other options are jumping jacks, stationary bikes or a short stint on a treadmill.

If you do any stretches at all, the latest guidelines from the world of physical therapy are as follows:

– Extend the joint to the farthest point gently, using less than one pound of pressure

– Don’t hold any position for longer than two seconds

– Return fully to the starting position for each pose before moving to the next

– Limit reps to no more than 10 per element

You should run through a series of stretches that incorporates muscle groups or follow a process of active isolated stretching targeting the muscle groups affected by your sport or activity. For example, a distance runner doesn’t rely on long muscles like hamstrings, where a hurdle jumper needs to focus more in the area. Dancers, gymnasts or bodybuilders will need a different focus entirely.

If you have any more questions about effective workouts, contact your local training or physical therapy center.


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