Stretching and Exercise: Is Stretching Before Exercise Dangerous? When Should You Stretch?
Most everyone who exercises (even those among us who may not have exercised since our high school gym class) has heard the advice to stretch. Doing so before, after and during your workout, we were told, would help to prevent injuries, reduce sore muscles and help us get a better overall workout.
As it turns out, this advice is a bit outdated. It seems that the advice was being given before anyone really knew for sure if, and when, stretching was beneficial for exercisers. So here we've all been, stretching to our hearts' content, and possibly causing more harm than good. If, that is, you've been stretching incorrectly.
Why it's Important to Stretch When You Exercise
Stretching before you've warmed up is NOT recommended because your body
hasn't had a chance to loosen up yet -- and stretching could actually
lead to injury.
The notion that stretching is important for anyone who does aerobic or strength-training
exercise (or even for those who don't) still holds true. Stretching is enormously
beneficial for your health, according to stretching expert and creator of the
Toward a Healthier Life, Jacques Gauthier. Among the benefits that stretching
Increased energy levels
Increased circulation of the blood to various parts of the body
Greater sense of well-being
Reduced muscle tension
Enhanced muscular coordination
According to Gauthier, it takes just 15 to 20 minutes of stretching a day to experience these beneficial effects.
When Should You Stretch? Before or After Your Workout?
If you're a regular exerciser (and if you're not, here are some tips to help you become one), it makes grand sense to fit your stretching right in with your workout. But should you do it before or after?
Stretch Your Way Toward a Healthier Life
Here's what people are saying about Jacques Gauthier's "Stretching Toward a Healthier Life."
"Without a doubt, the simple stretching exercises on this DVD will add life to your years ... and years to your life!"
-- Dr. Jean Chevrefils, Quebec
"I found Jacques' stretching program extremely beneficial for my own chronic back pain and can recommend it highly."
-- Walter C. Prehn, MD
"I've had your videotape for a year now and have been doing the stretching intensively. My back and knee pain are now just a bad memory."
-- Pierrette Abel
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Truth be told, the jury is still out on this one, largely because studies have found conflicting results. Case in point, a study in the British Medical Journal found that stretching before or after exercising does not confer protection from muscle soreness. Meanwhile, stretching before exercising, according to the study, "does not seem to confer a practically useful reduction in the risk of injury," either.
Another review of exercise evidence, this one published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found similar results.
"The use of stretching primarily as a way to prevent sports injury has been based on intuition and observation, rather than scientific evidence," said lead researcher Stephen B. Thacker, M.D. "The best advice is to include a combination of warm-up, strength training, plyometrics and balance exercises to lessen injury risks."
"We are not suggesting athletes discontinue flexibility training and stretching altogether," Thacker pointed out, adding that warm-ups, balance training and other activities may enhance safety and performance.
What's the bottom line? Most experts do NOT recommend stretching before exercise because your muscles are not properly warmed up yet. Instead, stretch right after your warm-up (such as walking briskly for five minutes or doing some jumping jacks) and after your workout.
Why should you stretch? Aside from increased energy, better posture and flexibility, and heightened mental clarity, it just feels good!
At this time, your muscles are warm and more elastic, and stretching increases your flexibility and maximizes the range of motion around your joints. You should stretch all the major muscles groups that you used during your workout.
What about stretching during your exercise routine? The rule of thumb is, if you feel tight go ahead and do a gentle stretch, then get back to your workout.
15 Essential Stretches That Work 95 Percent of Your Body!
There are countless stretches for your body, but it takes just 15 of them to stretch 95 percent of your body, according to Gauthier. His Stretching Toward a Healthier Life DVD shows you all 15 of these most effective stretching exercises, and the full program takes just 15 to 20 minutes a day.
And remember, stretching can be done any time of day, not just while you exercise, to help energize you, increase mental clarity and focus, and just to experience how good it feels!
How to Get the Most Out of Stretching (and Out of Life)!
What to do AFTER a Workout to Get Maximum Benefit From Your Exercise
British Medical Journal August 31, 2002;325:468
American Fitness July/August 2004