Daily Life

Should you stretch before exercise? Review offers new recommendations

Before, after, static, dynamic, not at all?

The role of stretching in sport has become rather confused in recent years.

The rules around stretching have become confused.
The rules around stretching have become confused. 

The warm-up trend, certainly while I was growing up, was static stretching (holding a stretch for seconds or minutes) before playing sport, maybe a few leg swings and a quick canter around the oval.

Stretching improves the flow of nutrients and blood to our muscles. It can also reduce soreness, and correct our posture and range of motion. It's also like self-massage: it feels good.

Recent research has also explored the effect of stretching on fascia (the web of connective tissue that wraps around our muscles) and the preliminary results have been promising

Despite the benefits of general stretching, stretching before sport fell out of favour about 15 years ago, when studies found it can reduce performance in sport by as much as 20 per cent. It may also increase the risk of injury, it was said.


So many people stopped stretching, or switched to a dynamic warm up (jogging or similar).

A new review of a decade's worth of literature on the subject makes sense of the studies and offers a new set of recommendations.

The Canadian-led research team found that indeed, static stretching before you perform explosive exercise can weaken you.

Essentially, the stretching and softening loosens the muscles needed to catapult you with speed and power.

The caveat was that this was only the case if each stretch lasted more than one minute and there was no dynamic warm up before the exercise. However, most people don't hold stretches that long, and when accompanied by a dynamic warm up, stretching does not seem to affect performance and may reduce the risk of muscle strain injuries.

They noted that the confusion about stretching before sport may have resulted because many of the studies reviewed did not include a full warm up (including static and dynamic stretching) and the static stretches were held for a relatively long time.

People going for a run or cycle can adequately warm up with a gentle jog or peddle, co-author of the review Malachy McHugh​, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital, told the New York Times.

For those performing more dynamic sports, like basketball or tennis, a full warm-up is beneficial.

He added that stretching after workouts, or regular yoga classes, is good for everyone.

"Hence, stretching in some form appears to be of greater benefit than cost [in terms of performance, range of motion, and injury] but the type of stretching chosen, and the make-up of the stretch routine, will depend on the context within which it is used," the review's authors concluded.