Pre-Exercise Stretching May Not Be Helpful
Stretching After or Between Exercise -- Not Before -- Cuts Injury Risk
Sept. 24, 2004 -- Regular stretching cuts your risk of a sports or workout
injury. But stretching just before an activity slows performance, researchers
These surprising conclusions come from a systematic review of all published
studies of stretching by Ian Shrier, MD, PhD. Shrier is past president of the
Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine and a researcher at SMBD-Jewish General
Hospital in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
"If strength or power is important to you, don't stretch before
exercise. If you enjoy stretching, stretch after exercise, or at other
times," Shrier tells WebMD in an email interview. "There are certain
exceptions to these rules where performance depends only partly on force and
power, and partly on aesthetics and range of motion -- a good example is
Shrier examined 23 articles on "acute stretching" -- stretching just
before exercise. He found that:
- 22 of the 23 reports showed no benefit in terms of force, torque, or
- One study showed that stretching before exercise made for more efficient
- Of the four articles that looked at running speed, one showed that
stretching before exercise was helpful, one found it slowed runners, and two
had "equivocal" results.
Shrier examined nine articles on regular stretching -- either after exercise
or at some other time. He found that:
- 7 of the 9 reports showed a benefit.
- The two reports showing no benefit looked only at running economy.
- None of the reports found any harm in regular stretching.
"An acute bout of stretching will decrease pain temporarily but will not
prevent injury," Shrier says. "Stretching over weeks to months will
increase your force, power, and speed of running, and may prevent injury. Both
an acute bout of stretching and regular stretching over weeks to months will
increase range of motion."
Many Still Recommend Before-Exercise Stretching
Despite these studies, Shrier notes that many fitness experts still advise
stretching before exercise. One of them is certified athletic trainer and
physical therapist Michele Raya, PhD, assistant professor of physical therapy
at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla.
"In my opinion I do think it prevents injury. The benefits are pretty
clear," Raya tells WebMD. "I do recommend to the athletes I am working
with to stretch before activity. And I work with athletes at the high school,
college, and professional level in running and jumping sports."
Raya says that stretching before exercise:
- Helps to regulate imbalances between opposing muscles
- Helps minimize musculoskeletal injuries by reducing stress to the tissues
- 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
"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."