When Not to Stretch

When Not to StretchMy dad kicks butt. Besides having a metabolism faster than Usain Bolt, he still runs three times a week at a pace that puts me out of breath in the first five minutes. Maybe it’s the ex-military in him, or maybe it’s a clue that I need more cardio, but he gets it done.

He was the one that got me in shape for high school soccer two-a-days, imparting wisdom such as proper running form and nutrition (back when I used to eat Pop-Tarts everyday for breakfast). Every once in a while we will still go running together and my old man will show me up.

It was on one of these days when I came home from college that I actually took notice of a particular part of his warm-up routine he had learned when he was in high school cross country: static stretching.

Hold up. Pause. What is static stretching?

Static stretching is basically the type of stretching where you hold a pose for a certain amount of time without moving (A.K.A. static). For example, leaning forward to touch your toes to stretch out your hamstrings and holding it.

Last week, I talked about how stretching can be beneficial for your health. Now, let’s talk about when it can actually be harmful.

So back to my Dad. Back when he was a teenager (I won’t name years in case he sees this), the field of exercise science deemed that static stretching before working out was necessary in order to prevent injuries. Now, scientists have found that static stretching may actually increase risk of injury while also decreasing performance.


First, let’s take a look at the mind. Your brain tells your muscles and tendons what to do and how to react to stretching. But as you hold that stretch, you notice that you can tolerate a little more.

Great! So you’ve lengthened your muscle, right? Well, probably not. You’ve gained a tolerance for the discomfort mentally. Unfortunately, your brain also tells your muscle to hold back a little in order to protect it from being stretched too far.

This means that you won’t be able to contract as much of the muscle. Which means you can’t perform as well. That 1RM may not happen today.

Ok, so then if I shouldn’t stretch before working out, I should just jump right into it, right? Some people do. I don’t recommend it.

You’re muscles need to ease into it, kind like how you need a primer coat before an actual coat of paint to cover up the delightful mural your toddler left for you when they were supposed to be napping (sorry mom).

A good warm-up should get your blood pumping and increase the range of motion in your limbs. It shouldn’t wear you out before your actual workout. You just need to get your body warm. It’s the intermediary step between rest and work; treat it as such. Do it for at least five minutes, and don’t allow your body to cool back down before you actually workout or else you’ve just wasted your time. Start out your run, swim, or bike ride a little slower to give your body a chance to warm up.

Dynamic stretching allows you to prep the muscles you are about to use. It’s especially effective if it’s specific to what types of movements you will perform for your workout. Here are some examples:

Squat to Stand: Reach down to touch your toes, keeping your legs as straight as is comfortable. Bend your knees, keeping your hands on your toes, and then straighten legs again. Do this 8-10 times.

Inchworms: Start in standing position. Then bend down (keeping your legs straight) and place your hands on the ground in front of you. Walk your hands out until your body comes into a plank, and then walk back towards your feet. Do 8-10 times.

Walking Leg Raises: Start in standing position. Raise one leg, keeping it straight, and place it back on the ground in front of you so that you move forward. Raise the other leg, doing the same thing. You should be traveling. Do this 8-10 times on each leg.

There are many, many types of dynamic stretches, but it’s best to do those that use the same muscles you’ll use for your workout. Warming up your legs probably won’t be as helpful if you plan on doing a bench press.

So there you have it. Static stretching is just fine for after your workout,  but is probably not the best alternative for your warm-up. Voila.


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