stretchTo Stretch or Not to Stretch?

A fantastic question with no simple answer.

We have been told since we were young to stretch before we work out, practice, or play in a game. But is that true? And if so, why? And if we should, for how long and when? These are questions athletes, coaches, trainers and therapists have been asking for years. Only recently has research caught up (sort of) with this issue.

The research that’s published is far from perfect. But it does give us some insight into how flexibility affects performance and injury prevention… both of which are goals most of us have, whether we are gym-rats training for “life” or elite athletes whose career depends on performance.

What we do know is that static stretching, those long-hold, “count to 30” sort of stretches, have a negative effect on immediate performance.  Plainly put, if you perform static stretches before a workout or a run, you won’t be able to lift as heavy, or run as fast.  However, those same stretches when performed after a workout (or at the end of the day) can have long-term benefits, including increased flexibility.

If “traditional” long/static stretches hurt, rather than help, before you work out, then what should be done? You want to prepare your body the way you’re going to perform. The body needs to be put into positions that reach the end range for a joint, but those positions should only be held for a few seconds. This way, blood flow will increase and get your body used to moving through all the available range it has.This technique is called a dynamic warm up, and it prepares your body for the work it’s about to do.  Stretching in this way has been shown to improve immediate power and agility as long as you do it within an hour of working out.

A great place to start is with the “World’s Greatest Stretch.”  Equinox has done a fantastic job breaking down this movement pattern with simple instructions and pictures…check it out here.

Don’t forget to also check out Release Physical Therapy’s very own exercise videos!

Stay healthy my friends!


Virginia Dula, DPT, OCS