Should You Be Stretching Before Exercising

By Bashir Murtaza · May 12th 2024
Should you be stretching before exercising? This is always a common debate. Let's find out what is the best way to go about stretching.

Stretching before exercising is a very common practice among athletes.

It's part of the fundamental routine you would probably see.

Stretch (warm-up), work out and stretch again (cooldown).

However, the efficacy of stretching, especially before workouts, has been a topic of debate.

This article delves into the intricacies of stretching, exploring its physiological basis, impact on injury prevention, and potential influence on workout performance.

What is Stretching?

Stretching involves lengthening the muscle-tendon unit (MTU) to a point of tension and then holding it there for a set period.

There are various forms of stretching, including static stretching (SS), where the position is held without movement, and dynamic stretching, which involves active movements that stretch the muscles.

For example, static stretching can be something like holding a hamstring stretch for 30-45 seconds.

Dynamic stretching could be seen as flapping your arms around and twisting your body in different motions.

The Physiology Behind Stretching

Physiologically, stretching affects the muscles and the nervous system.

When muscles are stretched, muscle spindle fibers are activated, sending signals to the spinal cord.

This triggers the stretch reflex, a protective mechanism causing muscle contraction to prevent overstretching and injury.

However, sustained, gentle stretching activates Golgi tendon organs (GTOs), which are located at the muscle-tendon junction and sensitive to tension changes.

When GTOs are activated, they signal the spinal cord to reduce muscle spindle activity, allowing muscles to stretch further and relax.

This process, known as autogenic inhibition, is crucial in increasing flexibility.

Moreover, the nervous system adapts to regular stretching through neuroplasticity, enhancing tolerance and stretching capability over time.

Stretching also induces a relaxation response in the nervous system, reducing bodily stress and tension.

This not only improves flexibility but also contributes to a general state of relaxation and well-being.

It took me time to wrap my head around stretching being related to the nervous system.

Does Stretching Before Exercising Prevent Injury?

So we know how stretching itself works.

Does stretching before exercising though prevent injury?

The relationship between stretching and injury prevention is complex and somewhat inconclusive.

While some studies suggest that certain types of stretching (like dynamic stretching) may reduce musculotendinous injuries, especially in sports requiring explosive movements, others indicate no significant correlation between stretching and injury prevention.

The effectiveness of stretching for injury prevention may also depend on the type of sport and the nature of the activity involved.

Does Stretching Before Exercising Have a Purpose?

So if stretching before exercising doesn't truly prevent injury, does it serve a purpose? 

One of the benefits of stretching is that it can increase the range of motion. With this, it can help improve your mobility and get a better range of motion during your exercise.

For example, stretching your calves before squatting can help you get into a deeper squat.

How Stretching Could Limit Performance

It's imperative to note though that even though stretching can increase your range of motion which can lead to a better range of motion in your exercise, it can overall limit your performance.

Research has indicated that prolonged static stretching (>60 seconds per muscle group) could impair performance, such as reducing force production. 

If you prefer mobility over power, stretching is fine. However, if you need the most power and strength for your workout, it may be best to not do static stretching before your exercise.

When to Stretch

The optimal timing for stretching depends on the individual's goals and the nature of the activity.

Dynamic stretching may be more beneficial as part of a warmup, while static stretching could be more suitable for cooling down or separate flexibility sessions.

The stretching goal should be to overall improve the range of motion. If you are assuming it will prevent injury or help with recovery, then you are going into it for the wrong reasons.

Final Thoughts

Stretching overall should be used to help improve mobility and range of motion overall.

It can in a sense reduce injury because you can perform exercises better, but stretching muscles in and of itself won't prevent an injury.

It also may not help with recovery too much.

I would suggest dynamic stretching before working out or in between sets and doing static stretching either afterward or on its own.

About the Author

I'm Bashir and I'm the CEO of Blob Technology and founder of Blob Fitness. With experience in weight lifting, nutrition, and training others for 10+ years, I'm trying to help provide as much content and tools I can to help you along your fitness journey and learn as much as possible.

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