We’ve all been there. You get home from a busy (and frustrating) day of work and the first thing you want to do is grab your XBar and start cranking out sets. It’s a tempting idea, but you need to prepare a bit if you want to get the maximum effort out of your exercise. The most common form of exercise preparation is stretching. Stretching helps your muscles gain flexibility, which should in turn decrease injury risk and enhance performance, right? Well, maybe. The evidence is actually mixed on stretching.
Studies reported to the National Health Service in England showed stretching to not be very important. A study from Australia found no reduction in injuries from stretching before workouts. Another researcher from Montreal found that stretching before exercise could even make muscles more tired.
There’s evidence to the contrary as well. The Harvard Medical School wrote about the importance of stretching before exercise in the Harvard Health Letter. And not only in exercise, physical therapists at Harvard medical facilities recommend stretching every day, even on days when working out is not in your plans. According to these studies, stretching increases your range of motion and keeps muscles loose and long. Without stretching, muscles become compact and lose strength over time.
So how important is stretching? It depends. Most experts agree that some form of dynamic stretching is good for workouts, like easy jogging or biking. The goal should be to warm up the muscles and increase range of motion, something that static stretches that you hold for 30 seconds don’t offer. How you warm up is up to you, but make sure you do something that’s conducive to the type of exercise you’re doing. For resistance training, try doing a few reps with extremely low intensity to give your muscles a primer on the day’s routine.