Should you stretch before working out?

It depends on what you need to do the exercise properly, say U of A experts.

Tia Lalani - 12 February 2019


You don't need to stretch to warm up your muscles before working out, but it's still a good idea if you lack the flexibility to perform an exercise properly or if you're recovering from an injury, say U of A experts. (Photo: Getty Images)

Just as we were getting used to the idea of a dynamic, task-related movement to warm up before we exercise, it appears that stretching of any type will have a similar negative impact on performance.

"I've been around gyms long enough to witness the downfall of static stretching in the early 2000s, the dawn of dynamic stretching a decade later, and now the end of dynamic stretching as well," said Loren Chiu, a University of Alberta biokinesiologist. "Who knows, maybe foam rollers are next."

According to Chiu, neither static nor dynamic stretching has been shown to reduce, or increase, injury risk.

"Attributing any injury or lack thereof to stretching would not only be difficult, but, ethically, almost impossible to study," he said.

Does stretching = warming up?

Chiu suggests we stop looking at stretching like it's a good or bad thing and ask why we're doing it.

"We're looking at the issue of stretching in a binary system, to stretch or not to stretch. But when we look at how the human body does things, you have to look at what the objective of the exercise is and what the body needs," he said.

Chiu added there's a reason it's called warming up: athletes are just trying to increase the temperature of the muscle and ensure the limbs have been through a full range of motion before the activity begins.

"Honestly, if you have to walk up or down a set of stairs to get to the gym, your muscles have warmed up. If you're coming in from the cold, you might ride the bike for five minutes, but you don't have to increase your muscle temperature so much that you are sweating. You just need to get them a little warmer than resting temperature."

So how much warming up is necessary? Chiu said to look no further than the activity itself.

"Take a squat. If you can't get into position to do a squat because your muscles are inflexible, then you should stretch-whatever you need to do the exercise properly. If you can do the exercise properly, then you don't have to stretch."

Stretching during rehab

Chris Zarski, clinical assistant professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at Augustana Campus, contended there is still a place for stretching in the rehabilitation world.

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