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Many Still Recommend Before-Exercise Stretching continued...

Raya says that stretching before exercise:

  • Helps to regulate imbalances between opposing muscles
  • Helps minimize musculoskeletal injuries by reducing stress to the tissues involved
  • Helps with shock absorption
  • Helps runners conserve energy by loosening tight muscles

Shrier notes that the effect of acute stretching on running speed has yet to be determined. However, he finds no proof that stretching before exercise cuts injury risk.

"If you don't like stretching, don't worry about it. Just remain active and work your muscles through their full range of motion when possible -- bench press, for example," he says. "If you do like to stretch, the general recommendation is to stretch after your activity or at other times. Exceptions to this rule are when the range of motion is more important than the force or power you need from your muscles, such as aesthetics in ballet."

How to Stretch

Shrier and Raya both agree that a warm-up before stretching is essential. And while he doesn't recommend acute stretching, Shrier strongly advises warm-up before exercise. What kind of warm-up is best?

"Use the muscles you plan to use in the activity. Start slow, increase gradually," he says. "If jogging, start with walking, then jog slow and then slowly increase the speed until you are running at your regular pace -- maybe five to 15 minutes depending on your level of fitness. If you are planning to race, don't worry about tiring yourself out. Do this before the race to have the best race time. Don't stretch before."

Regular stretching improves flexibility, Shrier and Raya agree.

Raya says that people who want to improve their flexibility should stretch every day. Those comfortable with their flexibility, she says, need to stretch only three times a week. She advises athletes preparing for a specific event to be sure to stretch the all the muscles they'll be using in the sport.

"It is real important to maintain the stretch for 30 seconds," Raya says. "If you hold a stretch for less than 30 seconds, there's no proof you lengthen the muscle. And if you hold it longer, you do no extra good beyond the first 30 seconds."

Raya warns that bouncing while stretching -- known as ballistic stretching -- seems particularly unhelpful. She advises against it unless a person has specifically trained to perform these kinds of stretches.

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