Does stretching before or after exercise prevent injuries and soreness?
Q. Does stretching before or after exercise prevent injuries and soreness?
A. No, despite what many coaches still say. A review of more than 350 studies published over the last 40 years concludes that stretching prior to exercise doesn’t prevent injury in competitive or recreational athletes.
The study, published in March in “Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise,’’ the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, was led by Dr. Stephen B. Thacker, an epidemiologist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Promotion of stretching “has been based on intuition and observation rather than scientific evidence,’’ said Thacker. Stretching can increase muscle and joint flexibility, he noted, but there is “little to no relationship between stretching before a workout and injuries or post-exercise pain.’’
Most injuries, he said, occur during muscle contractions within the normal range of joint motion, which raises doubts about how increasing range of motion could lower the risk of injury. Stretching helps maintain normal range of motion, which is important, especially as people get older, Thacker said.
Exercise physiologist William J. Evans of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences said that “few studies have demonstrated the benefits of stretching.’’ Most people who do stretch, he said, do so incorrectly, typically bouncing and lunging, which do not increase flexibility. To stretch properly, you should stretch slowly and hold it for at least 30 seconds.
Dr. Edward Phillips, director of outpatient medical services at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Network, cautioned that stretching can be harmful for weight lifters, particularly if they do it just before or in between sets of resistance training.
Stretching reduces the tensile strength of the muscle and is at odds with the need to contract it forcefully to overcome the resistance and thereby strengthen the muscle, said Phillips, who is also co-author of the “ACSM’s Exercise is Medicine: A Clinician’s Guide to Exercise Prescription.’’
Bottom line: If you still want to stretch, do so gently and after you’re well warmed up.
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