March 16, 2022
By Jordan Hove, PT, OCS
Many have grown up with the understanding that, whenever you’re about to work out, compete or otherwise push your body, it is important to stretch immediately before the activity in order to prevent injury and perform your best.
Yet, despite these long-held beliefs – perhaps surprisingly – there’s little evidence to support this theory.
Today’s evidence suggests that there’s no connection between injury prevention and stretching – static, or reach-and-hold-type stretching – before a workout. Performance-wise, there’s also no consistent connection, with some studies even suggestions that stretching before an activity or competition can actually weaken performance.
For example, research released by Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism in 2011 found that the vertical jump heights of young and middle-aged men actually declined when participants stretched beforehand. In contrast, the same study found heights increased after warming up dynamically, or using dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretches can best be described as a lower-intensity version of the exercises and movements you plan to perform during your activities or while you’re competing. A light jog, some leg swings, lunges, high-knees, arm and shoulder rotations … all these movements can be part of a dynamic stretching routine, depending on the activity you’re about to do.
Such dynamic warm-ups help you break a sweat, sure, but it does so much more. Dynamic stretching ensures your muscles are well-supplied with oxygen, promoting optimal flexibility and efficiency.
Dynamic stretching, however, can only optimize your current level of flexibility. Static stretching is still vital in maintaining and improving your body’s level of overall flexibility … just not right before an activity.
So, when’s the ideal time to maintain and improve flexibility through static stretching? Here are some guidelines:
Set time aside for stretching either first-thing in the morning or just before going to bed.
As consistent tightness in the muscles and joints can put one more at risk of pain and injury, those who regularly exercise or compete should have an annual physical therapy exam. During a PT exam, weaknesses and flexibility, strength and movement can be identified and properly addressed before they manifest into injuries.